I’ve been an ardent fan of the actor and writer Simon Callow since seeing his Orlando in As You Like It at the National Theatre years ago when I was a drama school student in London. Since then I’ve enjoyed his work in numerous films, his one man shows A Christmas Carol and Being Shakespeare, and his wonderful books on acting. He is a consummate storyteller; brilliantly theatrical and always one hundred percent truthful.
His latest solo venture is Tuesdays at Tesco’s, now playing at 59E59 Theaters as part of the 2015 Brits Off Broadway festival. This English language adaptation of Emmanuel Darley’s play Le Mardi a Monoprix was adapted and translated by Matthew Hurt and Sarah Vermande and is skillfully directed by Simon Stokes. Mr. Callow, in bright blue heels, a khaki skirt and jacket ensemble, oodles of blue eyeshadow and cheap plastic jewelry, portrays blonde, middle-aged Pauline, who dutifully visits her aging father each Tuesday, tidying up his flat and taking him grocery shopping at the superstore Tesco. Pauline, who was assigned as male at birth, celebrates herself in spite of the shame heaped upon her by her father and the stares and whispers from the neighborhood. She reminds herself and her father with mantra-like commitment: "I’ve always been as I am now me, myself, a woman….Even as a kid I was a girl nobody knew and now and forever more I am myself, me, out in the open. I have decided so and that’s how it is." During this ordinary Tuesday of cleaning, washing, ironing and shopping, each encounter with her father or with people in Tesco’s is met with bravado on the outside and heartbreak within.
Tuesdays at Tesco’s alternates between Pauline’s narration and conversations with her father and others, with Mr. Callow bringing his usual brilliant detail and nuance to each character. From the cashier to shoppers standing in the queue, Mr. Callow lets us know both what they really think of Pauline. He also lets us in on Pauline’s own reactions; she is sometimes enraged, sometimes wants to disappear, sometimes tosses off the hurt with humor, but is always declaring her right to be who she is. Each time Mr. Callow gives gruff, twisted voice to the judgmental father’s harsh words ("Pity's sake, Paul"), Pauline corrects him: "Pauline now and forever more." In this declaration Mr. Callow reveals Pauline’s intense longing to be seen and heard for who she really is, to be loved. And in spite of everything, Pauline’s actions show the compassion she has for her father right up to the shocking ending.
Praise also goes to Robin Don, whose set, a huge, suspended circle that encloses the playing area, resonates with symbolism. And pianist Conor Mitchell beautifully underscores the action and emotions of the story.
Tuesdays at Tesco’s and Mr. Callow’s tour de force performance are a study in and triumph over shame. It is a must see!