MY OLD LADY
                 
Review by Willard Manus

MY OLD LADY, Israel Horowitz's latest work, now in its West Coast
premiere at the Mark Taper Forum, is more character study than play.
Horowitz eschews story for the peeling back of disposition, layer after
layer, until a chunk of truth is revealed.

It's a testament to his skill as a writer that he can hold an audience's
attention with little more than a series of confrontations between three
self-absorbed people who are just the other side of unlikable and are so
haunted by the past that they can barely function in the present.
     

      
Horowitz is greatly aided by his cast, who contribute some of the finest acting seen locally in a long time. Sian Phillips plays the eponymous old lady, Mathilde Giffard, a 94-year-old living in a Paris apartment belonging to her lover, a recently deceased American businessman. When the businessman's son, Mathias "Jim" Gold (Peter Friedman), shows up to claim the flat, he discovers that a quirky French law gives her the right to reside in it until death, along with her daughter Chloe (Jan Maxwell), a middleaged, unmarried woman.

Friedman, who is broke and shabby, is desparate to sell the apartment,
but the elegant and rooted Mathilde will not allow it. The two battle verbally, but as they do secrets begin to emerge, painful revelations that catch Chloe up as well. The past becomes all-important with its father & son/mother & daughter tribulations and recriminations. Jim blames his own failures on his father, just as Chloe blames hers on Mathilde, who of course defends herself as defiantly as she can.
      

        
Just when the play begins to resemble a Strindbergian battleground,
Horowitz flips the narrative on its head, turning it into a love story. It would be unfair to give its final revelations--and resolution--away. Suffice to say that the play has profound things to say about the way human beings can survive pain and failure with the help of others.

(At the Mark Taper Forum, 135 N. Grand Ave., L.A. through Feb. 10.
Call 213-628-2772 or visit www.TaperAhmanson.com)