Guthrie Theater, Minneapolis
Those looking to Peter Quilter’s portrait of Judy Garland for a pleasant nostalgia trip are in for a rude awakening, said Graydon Royce in the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Quilter’s play, an Olivier Award–winning import from London’s West End, focuses on the actress’s final, 1969 comeback attempt, mounted in the months before she died, at 47, from a drug overdose. Still able to turn out buoyant performances, Garland was “drowning in chemicals” offstage and prone to mercurial changes in temperament, as Tracie Bennett makes vivid. “Shouting, crying, kicking, and screaming with a quavering voice that would make Katharine Hepburn sue for royalties,” Bennett “devours the London hotel room” in which much of the play is set.
Quilter should be grateful that Bennett is “an absolute force of nature,” said Ed Huyck in the Minneapolis City Pages. She’s almost able to mask the fact that his thin addiction melodrama “barely scratches the surface” of Garland’s sad final act. Tom Pelphrey and Michael Cumpsty “do solid work” in trying to flesh out their roles as Garland’s club-owner fiancé and her “queeny” gay accompanist, but the script makes the characters “largely static.” Only Bennett is able to transcend the weaknesses of the play. By bringing out Garland’s “outsize personality and presence,” she reminds us exactly what made Garland a star.