by: Sandi Durell

But why? When Martha (Edie Falco), a 48 year old kindergarten teacher, mother of a 22 year old, and wife, ups and leaves her classroom and her family to express her freedom and disappears to live in a messy studio apartment in a place called The Madrid, somewhere in Chicago, it’s cause for wonder.

It seems that “Nurse Jackie” has some other secrets up her sleeve, but it’s unclear what they are. The play is written by Liz Flahive, one of Falco’s TV producers, and it has an air of sit-com all over it here at the Manhattan Theatre Club in this production directed by Leigh Silverman.

Martha has abandoned everyone, including her feisty, elderly mother Rose (played by the always remarkable Frances Sternhagen) who is exhibiting the beginnings of dementia as her memory and driving capabilities wane.

Martha’s sweet, capable daughter Sarah (a reliable Phoebe Strole), tries to protect and take charge of her quiet, yet unremarkable father John (John Ellison Conlee) by moving back into the house where he now lives alone. Their neighbors Becca and Danny (Heidi Schreck and Darren Goldstein) don’t really figure into this plot, other than for an occasional laugh, especially when Becca appears in a swan costume, as they deal with a son Dylan (Seth Clayton), whom we meet in the 2d act, and who has a growing condition that locks his knees and is painful. He’s also very amusing when he speaks to granny Rose in a mock giant voice. Otherwise, they all seem to be appendages with unfinished stories of their own.

Months go by before Martha appears at a Starbucks where Sarah is working to bring her a birthday gift and this begins a re-entry for Sarah back into her mother’s new life. Martha, meantime, has taken on a pseudo-job (she doesn’t get paid) running an open mic evening at a bar, where we see her participate robot-like, but she eventually gets “fired.” Meantime, John’s reaction to all is to sell off the furniture at home in order to forget and move along.

There is a disconnect somewhere in the writing. But Falco, rising to the occasion, comes across as real as she plows thru, giving her heart and soul as Martha. Ms. Sternhagen is always a delight and her droll delivery produces many of the laughs.
The cast is rounded out by the cute little child that appears at the opening of the show, Brooke Ashley Laine.

What we do learn is that Martha has been attempting to escape for years but something always got in her way. Some women are just meant to be loners and not tied to anyone or anything. Dysfunctional comes in all shapes, colors and sizes!

Photo: Joan Marcus

The Madrid  MTC, City Center Stage 1, on West 55th Street, NYC  www.manhattantheatreclub.com