… opera with no music …

If you think you’re too fat or hate opera, maybe you’ll like this play about a fat but successful opera singer who isn’t so sure she likes opera either.  Otherwise …

Margaret is a woman with “issues” – she’s guilty about the demands of her career as an opera singer on her child, and suffers from stage fright, and above all she’s fat. But after a successful climb to the operatic top, the one thing she is not is “forgotten.” Instead, the title – and the play – pander to women who feel “forgotten” because they’re fat.  It also panders to people who find opera a terrible bore, and the emotional ins-and-outs are on the level of another kind of opera – soap.

On the bright side, Ashlie Atkinson in the role of Margaret is a vibrant performer and it’s fun to watch her cavort through this otherwise annoying play.

In preparation for her debut in the starring role at a major opera house, Margaret and her husband, Rudolph (Robert Stanton) are at a fancy hotel with obliging room service and an eager-to-please bell boy (Justin Mark).  She’s being courted by an eager PR rep Erik (Mark Junek), when an entertainment reporter, Steve (Darren Goldstein), comes to interview her for a big spread in his major newspaper.  Well, OK, I suppose “forgotten” could be about ”how you feel inside” but Margaret sure is getting a lot of attention.

It turns out she knows Steve – in fact he was her high school crush who co-starred with her in Hello, Dolly senior year, and the flame is not quite extinguished for her and, she assumes with not a lot to go on, for Steve.

It wouldn’t be right to reveal the resolution of the romantic conflict between (allegedly) handsome Steve, a “Philistine” who knows nothing about opera and could care less, and Rudolph, Margaret’s sensitive, music conductor husband with romantic issues of his own – not because that would spoil the suspense because there isn’t much.  By the same token, I won’t reveal whether Margaret is an absolutely fabulous success on her opening night and gets reviews of transcendent praise, or is a flop – take a guess.

Ashlie Atkinson is a comic talent and brings a terrific delivery to Margaret’s self-amused and ironic cracks about being fat.  Atkinson also conveys dramatic depth, rising above the clichés of the emotional events.  Her performance as a bouncy, down-to-earth, homey diva with a heavy body and dazzling red hair will stay with me.

Most of the laughs, though, are at the expense of opera.  Well, sure, opera – like books, movies, dance, etc.– is a matter of taste and if you happen to be caught in a lengthy one that’s not your type you can feel the enormous suffering Erick (Mark Junek) expresses in an energetically delivered verbal rush of hate-opera.  But the play’s ironic celebration of know-nothing – Steve-who-hates-opera becomes the big newspaper’s next opera critic – is unpleasant.

This is all in line with the play’s take that opera-goers don’t really like opera – they just take a cue from The New Yorker magazine that it’s “the thing to do.”   More of the snide nonsense that passes itself off as arch humor in The Forgotten Woman.

According to the program, author Tolins has written for Opera News and is a panelist on the Metropolitan Opera Radio Quiz so I guess he really likes opera – that is really likes opera as opposed to the cultural pseudos he describes, i.e. everyone else at the opera, who buy pricey tickets to suffer in the service of their supposed pretensions.

And of course it’s not believable that the newspaper, whose publisher Steve can’t name, makes Steve its opera critic at the death of its genuinely knowledgeable critic. Nor is it believable that on the eve of her great debut Margaret’s ready to quit it all to have a “normal life.  And – irony of ironies — while many women opera singers are slim, it’s a truism that many are really large in size, so fat,” though it’s central to the play, is a non-issue

We never encounter the enormous discipline, hours and hours of practice and learning and sustained ambition that it takes to become a great singer.   Margaret’s operatic success as almost accidental.

And what about the music?  It’s puzzling and disappointing that, except for a few background notes, and in an age of great recording effects, no music is incorporated into this play about an opera singer.  A play about an opera singer with no music … I don’t know — maybe the play isn’t snide, maybe Tollins really doesn’t like opera.

The world premier of The Forgotten Woman plays at Bay Street Theater in Sag Harbor, Long Island, through June 19, 2016.   For more information and tickets, click here.

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