All Out of Alms

Written by Mark Peikert on . Posted in Posts, Theater.

Australian playwright and director Wendy Beckett, in her
director’s note for A Charity Case,
claims that most stories about adoption “are more fantasy than reality. The
scenario is often romantic: wonderful adoptive parents, blissful reunions with
birthmothers, open-minded attitudes.” One wonders what stories she’s been
hearing, because most adoption stories adapted for entertainment involve
exactly the clichés that Beckett trades in here.

Sulky and sullen because her adoptive mother Faith (Alison
Fraser) works and drinks, 17-year-old Deidre (Jill Shackner) dreams that her
real mother might be a way to escape Faith’s vanity and selfishness. But
Deidre’s real mother (a much too young Alysia Reiner) is something of a pretentious
loon, prone to ripping up newspapers and speaking in Sphinx-like riddles, all
while clad in a ratty wig and Joseph’s coat of many colors.

The real problem with A Charity Case is the casting of Fraser as seamstress Faith. In
arm-baring dresses from designer Theresa Squire and with a face framed by soft,
voluminous hair, Fraser has never looked better—and her pro’s performance only
highlights the flaws in Beckett’s script. Who can blame this funny,
exasperating creature for wanting to go out on dates and leave her dreary daughter
behind? And as a single woman of a certain age, can we really be disappointed
when Faith tipples a little too much and begs her daughter to say she’s pretty?
Watching the battles between the childish, almost-adult Deidre (who hides in a
trunk during a dark and stormy night) and Faith are a little like watching
: Sure, we recognize not-great
parenting, but when the mother is such a fabulous person, rooting for the
boring daughter is difficult at best.

A Charity Case

Through Nov 20, Theatre Row, 410 W. 42nd St. (betw. 9th
& 10th Aves.),; $35.