In “Good As New,” a funny and pointed 25-minute play that MCC streamed live online, Julianne Moore as Jan is arguing with her daughter Maggie (Kaitlyn Dever) on Maggie’s 16th birthday, while the teenager drives her mother home after plastic surgery. Maggie is “disgusted” at what her mother has done to her face.
“I have no respect for any woman that would allow….”
“Who’s left for you to respect?” Jan interrupts, “This knocks out…” and she lists famous women who have had plastic surgery – Betty Ford, Mary Tyler Moore, Elizabeth Taylor.
If many of the women she mentions are dead, that’s because this short play was first produced at MCC Theater in 1994, back when its author, Peter Hedges, was best-known as the novelist and screenwriter of “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape.” Now, when MCC returns to it 26 years later online rather than on stage, Hedges is probably best known as Lucas Hedges’ father.
“Good as New” is the fifth short play presented live online by MCC Theater during this unique season. In a couple of ways, it’s a departure from the first four. It is a benefit reading (the others were free) – available to rent for $30 through July 19th. And if the play lives up to its title, it is still a revival; the other plays, presented one a week since May – Frankie and Will; The Sentinels; Pues Nada and When — were original works making their world premieres online.
But, as with most of the other plays*, “Good as New” demonstrates that MCC has figured out a way to make largely satisfying live theater online. They pick scripts by talented playwrights that translate well to Zoom; they feel like full performances. (The MCC plays have been presented on Youtube, but they have a Zoom aesthetic.) “Good As New” is a two-character play that takes place in the front seat of a car. Although the two actresses are sheltering in different homes, the screens are put side by side, to simulate the car; they even occasionally move their head to the side to look at one another (although, since they’re in a car, it’s perfectly natural for them to stare straight ahead.)
The first four were part of a series called “LiveLab One Acts,” which the theater plans to resume soon. None were longer than 45 minutes. This, as it turns out, makes sense for Zoom plays, something I’ve learned by hard experience. And they’re presented one by one. Even those series that feature much shorter original plays (ten minutes or less), but bunch them all together ten or more at a time, don’t work as well. Looking for up to two hours in a sitting at Zoom or Zoom-like shows – basically, any show that doesn’t employ the full range of film techniques to which we’ve all become accustomed while viewing screens — seems to have a tendency to wear out the viewer (ok, this viewer), and undermine the impact of the stories. (The exceptions, such as Mad Forest, are those that treat Zoom like a new medium, and attempt new techniques)
The MCC plays also haven’t been hurt by the improbably starry casts, most with track records performing both on stage and screens.
“Good as New” is a quick-hit play that’s arguably more of a sketch, but it has something of a twist at the end that gets you thinking — about age, and parenting, and American culture….and that makes it a play.
*Pues Nada was the exception – far too complicated and confusing with time-shifts, and violent physical action read aloud as stage directions..