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American Playhouse Mrs. Cage

Stunning performances by Anne Bancroft and Hector Elizondo demonstrate the art of thesping for those who've thought it's disappeared into memory and hearsay. Playing adversative-complementary roles, actor and actress ignite Nancy Barr's gem of a one-act; it's TV theater at its best.

With:
Cast: Anne Bancroft, Hector Elizondo, Stanley Grover, Steve Hornyack, Amy Morton, Tom Noga, Jack Noseworthy, Tracy Brooks Swope.

Stunning performances by Anne Bancroft and Hector Elizondo demonstrate the art of thesping for those who’ve thought it’s disappeared into memory and hearsay. Playing adversative-complementary roles, actor and actress ignite Nancy Barr’s gem of a one-act; it’s TV theater at its best.

A study in the culmination of frustrations, Barr’s story focuses on the plight of middle-aged, upper-middle-class Lillian Cage (Bancroft), who’s lived her life for husband Martin, a successful attorney who takes her for granted, and daughter Elizabeth, who’s drifted away from needing her.

Lillian’s life has lost meaning, even if she doesn’t know it, until she encounters supermarket box boy Billy, teenager whose politeness and un-self-conscious attention have turned Lillian’s head.

When overbearing, selfish Phyllis Dean (Tracy Brooks Swope) inadvertently causes Billy’s death in the store’s parking lot, Lillian summons up all her buried hurts– manifested by one thoughtless remark made recently by Martin to her–and she plugs Phyllis in the forehead.

Play stems from Lillian’s interview with Lt. Angel (Elizondo), who interrogates her at the station house. The revelations are painful in coming as Lillian plays out different roles and Angel, responding to her, bores in.

He plays her out, telling things of himself, offering sympathy and professionalism, recognizing her moods. But his job is to find out why she shot a stranger in a parking lot, and the interrogation proceeds brilliantly.

Based on Barr’s play, the action as directed to startling effect by Robert Allan Ackerman illuminates the principal characters with unerring precision.

Barr and Ackerman use film to full effect to get across the drama: looping, severe lighting to point up dramatic highlights, replays, flashbacks and attention to details all help develop the theme of the play.

But it’s Bancroft’s artful delineation of the faithful, unhappy Lillian that makes the piece work. Elizondo establishes Lt. Angel down to a fine point, and his dynamic description of Billy is strong stuff; he helps build the Lillian character as he moves in and out. It’s a lovely onstage partnership.

Stanley Grover’s Martin Cage is virile and uncompromising, and Jack Noseworthy–who sports a grin that could start a clock–ably plays the luckless Billy.

Set designer Greg Gneier and production designer David Sackeroff have contributed an appropriate, imaginative naturalism to the jailhouse setting and tasteful contributions to the Cage home.

Barr’s play is insightful and challenging, and everyone’s up to it. It’s all first-class.

Popular on Variety

American Playhouse Mrs. Cage

(Wed. (20), 9-10:10 p.m., PBS)

Production: Filmed around L.A. and at Occidental Studios by Haft-Nasatir/Dan Lupovitz Prods. Exec producers, Lindsay Law, Marcia Nasatir, Steven Haft; producer, Dan Lupovitz; director, Robert Allan Ackerman; writer, Nancy Barr.

Crew: Camera, Bill Pope; editor, Steven Weisberg; music, David Mansfield; production designer, David Sackeroff.

Cast: Cast: Anne Bancroft, Hector Elizondo, Stanley Grover, Steve Hornyack, Amy Morton, Tom Noga, Jack Noseworthy, Tracy Brooks Swope.

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