Sleeping with the enemy

By CAROLYN CLAY  |  June 3, 2008

For a dance with death, Milk Train is surprisingly funny, and the production mines the blunt, acerb humor in Mrs. Goforth for all it’s worth. One associates the role with Tallulah Bankhead, who flamed out in it on Broadway in 1964. But its originator — for the 1962 Spoleto premiere and the initial 1963 assault on Broadway — was earthier British actress Hermione Baddeley. Dukakis finds both the vixen and the dragon in this terrified but still flirtatious old powerhouse. And she gives a performance refreshingly free of vanity, moving comfortably between viable, stripped-down decrepitude — gray hair stringy, slumping body stuffed into slip and sweater — and the exotic get-ups David Woolard has designed for the rich old lady’s public audiences. Dukakis’s Goforth is tough, but even as she rages, you can hear the breathlessness, see how close the ill body is to toppling over.  

As her nastier antiquated-vampire-vamp chum, the Witch of Capri, Judith Roberts, in gray ringlets and mediæval finery, gives a deliciously malicious performance. “You’re the heart of a world that has no heart,” Flanders says to her — which may be true but demonstrates the difficulties Kevin Anderson faces in the ponderous role of Death as boy toy. Many of the character’s monologues (though not the one in which he silkily explains a first mercy killing) are zen-infused mush. Still, Anderson maintains the balance between con artist and genuine searcher. As Blackie, Maggie Lacey is poised, contained, and yearning. And the beleaguered Italian servants of Curtis Billings and Amanda Tudor, caught at the opening in a quickie, provide some sex to combat the death.

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