I remember the exact moment I fell in love with Edie Falco. The Sopranos was at the zenith of the zeitgeist, but as is typical for me I was actively avoiding anything that was all the rage. This also happened with Friends and Grey’s Anatomy, when I didn’t discover them all by accident by simply flipping through channels and hitting upon an interesting scene. In this case, the scene was a big argument between Tony and Carmela. I had no context and no prior exposure to either actor that I could recall. I gave the scene a moment. In it, James Gandolfini had Edie Falco backed against the wall and was screaming into her face and she was glaring at him, not backing down. The sense was that they both knew that if he touched her one of them was going to die. At the end of his tirade, Carmela lets off a pithy, stinging retort that even in my uninformed status I recognized as a truth they both knew but had never spoken. Tony’s response was to throw a punch through the wall, just inches from Carmela’s head.
Edie Falco didn’t flinch. She seethed. Her retaliation was to stare Tony down. No doubt the moment had been rehearsed and rehearsed, and there were likely a number of takes, but the moment was so fresh and alive – more so than anything else I ever remember seeing on television – and in that moment I was hooked. I immediately called up all of the old episodes and binged them to finally understand what all of the buzz had been about. What I realized is that while Gadolfini gives an excellent performance, the magic of the series really lay with Edie Falco.
When that series ended and Edie Falco moved over to Showtime with her own half-hour comedy/drama series, Nurse Jackie, I followed and devoured that series too. About a hardened nurse with a heart of gold and an addiction, the series can only be described as a rollercoaster ride of emotion and insight. I don’t believe Showtime has the series in demand any longer, but it was about to end a run on Netflix just as I signed up for that service, and I made a point of clearing my schedule to watch the entire series for a second time before it disappeared. It’s fair to say that Nurse Jackie has proven to be a seminal influence in my own work, and that in at least one draft of everything I right I imagine Edie Falco in one of the roles.
So, I stalked the Manhattan Theatre Club’s website when her appearance in Morning Sun was announced waiting for the ticket to go on sale. MTC is a subscription-based organization that looks very familiar to my Chicago-focused eyes, so once subscribers had booked their seats single tickets were released. I was waiting on their website ten minutes before the advertised time, refreshing like a mad man for fear they’d sell out. They were late in updating the website and I refreshed for nearly an hour before I took a break. When I returned, access was available, and I booked my customary seat on the aisle in the back row.
The space at NY City Center, Stage I felt like an old lecture hall, not unlike the old Next space in Evanston. Here it’s a wide, shallow stage with no curtain. I didn’t take an exact count, but I’d say the audience seated about five hundred. It is not my favorite space.
The story of Morning Sun is that of a woman reviewing her life and being held accountable by the two major figures, her mother and daughter - played by Blair Brown and Marin Ireland. And of course, the central character is played by my beloved Edie Falco.
I’m usually ambivalent about seeing stars give live performances. I never fully get lost in the story because some part of me is always aware that I’m seeing a star. That didn’t happen in this production. The first reason was for the very smart directoral decision to start the dialogue in the dark so that we didn’t know who was speaking. The lights rose gently so that by the time the set and actors are fully revealed, we’re already engrossed in the action.
As an artist who has dined out on some of the finest performances offered in Chicago storefront theatre, this was right up my alley. As I write this, the script isn’t yet available, but soon will be on Amazon. I can’t wait to get my copy. I predict there will be several productions of this play over the next few years in Chicago, and I intend to see every one of them. I am particularly hopeful this lands at Redtwist as that ensemble has a number of actors who could make a meal of this script. Until then…