The problem with star vehicles is they often go flat when the star is removed from the equation, laying bare their inadequacies.
David Hare's "Amy's View" is a case in point. This four-act comedic drama premiered in London in 1997 with the great Judi Dench, who reprised her performance as a frank, truth-telling theater star to critical plaudits on Broadway in 1999.
Subsequent actors have not fared as well, and that's the fault of Hare's play, a half-baked, talky contrivance that takes on big themes and insular clichés.
Director Gary Gisselman wrestles with these challenges in the regional premiere of the show, which opened last weekend at Park Square Theatre. Linda Kelsey, who gained fame on TV's "Lou Grant" lo these many years ago, plays Esme, the role Dench originated. Kelsey is a fine performer with strong stage charisma. And she handles the reams of dialogue fairly well, making lines that sound plucked from position papers sound heartfelt, funny and interesting. Hers is a commendable effort, but not the tour de force that's needed to compensate for Hare's script.
"Amy's View," by the way, is mistitled. It's named for Esme's daughter, Amy (Tracey Maloney), who created a little publication called Amy's View when she was a girl. In it, she advocated for idealistic things, a worldview that continues into adulthood.
At 23, she has hooked up with boyfriend Dominic (Gabriel Murphy), a nasty piece of work. An egotistical orphan, Dominic makes his living as a newspaper critic until he leaves the field for a successful TV show, telling Esme that theater is dead.
"Amy's View" is more a philosophical debate than a play, as the characters discuss issues and ideas that animated Margaret Thatcher's Britain (the four acts play out from 1979 to 1995).
The action takes place on Joseph Stanley's hulking but airy set that seems to have been repurposed. Esme's country home has stained glass, giving it the look of a sanctuary.
Gisselman's cast has the accents down. Maloney gives a pert performance as an idealistic young woman caught between her blabbermouth mother and boyfriend/husband. Her performance is honest, even if we don't quite buy the relationship. Murphy's Dominic is sharp and cutting, although he looks like more of a Midwestern schlub than a James Bond-esque stud.
The cast also includes two wonderful actors in underwritten characters: Nathaniel Fuller as Esme's neighbor and financial adviser and Cathleen Fuller as Esme's live-in mother-in-law. (Her only role is to become more decrepit as the show goes on.)
James Rodriguez, who plays a young actor, invests his character with verve and vim that briefly animates a desultory show.