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Let's Call Her Patty

Theatre Review by Howard Miller - July 31, 2023

Rhea Perlman
Photo by Jeremy Daniel
Zarina Shea's Let's Call Her Patty, opening tonight at the Claire Tow Theater at Lincoln Center, is a thin wisp of a play, a miscellany of memories about a woman, the narrator's aunt, who essentially raised her after her own mother died. It is intriguing enough to rouse our curiosity, but ultimately it tapers off to inconclusiveness, and we are left to fill in too many blanks on our own.

Ostensibly, the central character is the woman to whom the narrator Sammy (Leslie Rodriguez Kritzer) gives the pseudonym of Patty. Patty (Rhea Perlman, who comes closest to shaping her snippets of dialog into a flesh-and-blood individual) is introduced as comfortably well off, "an Upper West Side lady of moderate means." Hers is an insular world, defined by where she gets her coffee, her bagels, her nova and whitefish, and by her trips to her Pilates classes, the theatre, or the 92nd Street Y. Mostly, though, we see her in her kitchen, endlessly chopping away at vegetables on a cutting board; indeed, the constant chop-chop-chop becomes the play's insistent soundtrack.

Over the course of 70 minutes, we learn quite a bit about Patty's quirks, her grudges, and the importance to her of appearances. Most significantly, though in a surprisingly underdeveloped way, we learn about her unsettled connection to her adopted daughter Cecile (Arielle Goldman), an up-and-coming artist in her late 20s who has always been troubled and who now, sadly, is addicted to drugs. While we only occasionally get to see or hear directly from Cecile, we do catch the ambiguous feelings Patty has about her. No doubt she is determined to singlehandedly "save" her daughter ("I'm gonna fix this," she says several times), but she also wants to avoid any embarrassing stigma of being seen as personally responsible for all that has gone wrong. "What did I do but love her?" she demands of Sammy. "What did I do???"

Apart from the characters of Patty and Cecile, there is that narrator Sammy, the one we have to rely on in order to gain any insights into her aunt and cousin. One possible way to think of her role is to imagine her in a context where the other two are merely aspects in the story of her own life. In a diary? To a therapist? Although Sammy does come off as fairly self-assured, you do wonder about lies underneath, especially when she speaks about her other personal relationships or makes occasional off-topic speeches about the end of the world.

It truly is difficult to parse Let's Call Her Patty beyond the bits and pieces we are given. Margot Bordelon's direction and Kristen Robinson's set design give the play a dreamlike quality that is in keeping with a work about memories, unbidden thoughts, and random ideas. But as an audience for a play, we need more than these evanescent wisps. We simply do not know Patty or Cecile or Sammy well enough to walk away with any more than simple impressions about a set of strangers.

Let's Call Her Patty
Through August 27, 2023
Lincoln Center Theater
Claire Tow Theatre, 150 W 65th St. (Between Broadway and Amsterdam)
Tickets online and current performance schedule: