“Let’s Call Her Patty” can most charitably be considered a character study, since there is little discernible plot, with the one tangible development occurring close to the end of the 70-minute play, which feels longer.
Unfortunately, the character under study in Zarina Shea’s play, while meant to be colorful, comes perilously close to a stereotype, stopped from falling into flat-out caricature by the warmth and breadth of the cast.
Rhea Perlman portrays Patty, but the details of her life and her personality are largely supplied to us by her niece Sammy (Leslie Rodriguez Kritzer.) Sammy alternates between direct address to the audience and interaction with her aunt, who spends most of her time in the kitchen of the minimalist set using a real knife to chop imaginary food for a series of meals, mostly for her dog Sally.
Sammy subscribes to the belief she once heard from a guy she slept with at a Zen retreat that “Where you are is who you are” and that Patty’s pastimes, taste and temperament are that of a quintessential Upper West Sider: She goes to museums and the theater, contributes to the ACLU, is opposed to the death penalty but talks about wanting to “shoot” Bernie Madoff and Jesse Eisenberg, although she doesn’t mean Jesse Eisenberg; she mistook him for Mark Zuckerberg.
Fairly early on, Sammy and Patty have an exchange about a friend of Patty’s named Barbara, and Barbara’s son Seth, whom Sammy once dated. Now Patty tells Sammy that Seth is “on drugs” and in rehab. “It’s very terrible for his mother but let’s be honest it’s obviously her fault,” Patty tells Sammy, who’s stunned at Patty’s attitude. “Well things like this don’t just happen, Sammy,” Patty says, especially not to people who went to Harvard, as Seth did. “You know I always thought she smothered him. You ever notice the word ‘smother’s got ‘mother’ in it?”
The conversation feels casual and comic, just another bit to reveal Patty’s personality. But about a half hour later, Sammy tells Patty (and us) of her discovery that Patty’s daughter Cecile, a sculptor who’s just had a hugely successful show, also has a drug problem.
At this point, one might reasonably expect that the play would shift gears from its meandering pace. But Patty is in denial, then uncertain what to do, then blaming herself, and the endless kitchen scenes with Sammy and Patty and the rhythmic chop-chop-chop of the knife continue.
As Cecile, Arielle Goldman barely gets to speak – not just because she’s in few scenes, Here is a portion of a scene, when her mother Patty visits her in rehab:
Patty: Are you getting any exercise?
Patty: The grounds are very gorgeous – I would kill to hike here – I can’t – it’s not open to the public, I already asked
Patty: Did you try that hike I told you, Barbara said Seth recommended
Cecile: No, I
Patty: You should it sounded just spectacular – Have you ridden a horse yet?
Patty: I can’t think the last time I rode a horse
Surely, this scene is meant to show Patty as, at least, a bad listener, or more likely a narcissist, and might even be intended reveal Cecile as troubled. But the scene also feels typical of the playwright’s vagueness, which can feel like withholding.
The title is the first line that Sammy says at the top of “Let’s Call Her Patty,” and strongly suggests that the character is based on an actual person. This may be a clue to the playwright’s approach. It’s as if we’re visiting someone we may know. A visit doesn’t necessarily have the same rules as a play – the pace is not the same; the information gleaned won’t be as complete. In this case, it also won’t be as satisfying.
Let’s Call Her Patty
Lincoln Center Theater’s Claire Tow Theater through August 27
Running time: 70 minutes, no intermission
Written by Zarina Shea
Directed by Margot Bordelon
Sets by Kristen Robinson, costumes by Sarafina Bush, lighting by Oliver Wason, and sound by Sinan Refik Zafar.
Cast: Arielle Goldman, Leslie Rodriguez Kritzer, Rhea Perlman
Photographs by Jeremy Daniel