“Emily” [Romance]; “Celia” [Marriage]; “Dorothy” [Marriage]; “Ma” [Marriage/Old Age]
|A. Larry Haines, Sada Thompson.|
A program of four one-acts that served well as a vehicle for character actress Sada Thompson, who played each one’s eponymous character, comprising three sisters and their mother. She changed her costume (designed by my talented college classmate, Sara Brook), makeup, and wig for each. The plays take place in different urban kitchens on the day before Thanksgiving.
|Robert Donley, Sada Thompson.|
Ranging in style from the semi-serious to the farcical, Twigs begins with “Emily,” about a widow who is attracted to the head of the moving company (Nicholas Coster) that has just moved her into her new home. She makes a date with him for Thanksgiving dinner.
Then comes “Celia,” about her sister, who is unsuccessful at getting into the swing of her selfish husband’s (Simon Oakland) macho conversation with an old army buddy (Conrad Bain).
“Celia” is followed by “Dorothy,” in which the third sister and her spouse (A. Larry Hines) overcome her superstitious fears of celebrating their 25th anniversary.
|Sada Thompson, Nicholas Coster.|
Finally, there is “Ma,” about the matriarchal virago who wants to marry her common-law husband (Robert Donley) before she dies.
Twigs’s title is based on poet Alexander Pope’s line, “Just as the twig is bent, the tree’s inclined.” By our viewing, in the last scene, the mother of the three daughters, we are—as per Pope’s remark—expected to understand all that came before. The playwright, in fact, does not make it clear in the first three scenes that the women are even related.
Most critics felt the play was thin stuff with an occasional funny remark, more effective as an acting vehicle than a contribution to dramatic literature. The four women were thought neither sufficiently developed nor different enough to consider their characterizations especially noteworthy, but Sada Thompson’s performance was nonetheless a season highlight. Clive Barnes termed the play “rickety,” unoriginal, and worthy of little attention outside of Thompson’s presence. John Simon wrote that the playlets “of such abject triviality, such forced and simplistic humor, such clumsily apparent joining, that I felt I was watching a workshop play.”
Critical support, though, came from Walter Kerr, for whom these were “four, funny and touching and freshly conceived pieces,” and from Brendan Gill, who felt great “admiration” for this “often very funny and no less often touching” comedy.
Simon may have found Thompson’s work “second-rate,” but his colleagues raved. Barnes declared that Twigs revealed her “remarkable” talent. “She is confident and assertive and etches in each of her subtly different characters with bold, deft strokes. She also exhibits that special sympathy for life, that expansiveness, that not only makes stars but also makes audience idols.”
Accordingly, Thompson won the Tony for Best Actress, Play, the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Performance, and Variety’s Poll for Female Lead.
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Next up: Two by Two