Presented by Madame Melville Partners in association with Sonny Everett, Ted Tulchin, Darren Bagert, and Aaron Levy at the Promenade Theatre, 2162 Broadway, NYC, May 3-Aug. 26.
After a slow beginning, Richard Nelson's "Madame Melville" joins the ranks of such coming-of-age plays as "The Corn Is Green" on the theme of "the most inspiring teacher I ever knew." Poignant, charming, and humorous, "Madame Melville" is remarkable for today's theatre in that it is performed without an intermission in three long sequences covering one evening and the following day. As his own director, Nelson has pulled off a retro feat in the age of television.
Making his New York stage debut in the role he created in London, film star Macaulay Culkin plays 15-year-old Carl, an American living with his parents in Paris in 1966. Studying at the American School, he has developed a crush on his teacher, Madame Melville, who has an evening film study class once a week that returns to her apartment to discuss the films afterwards. Carl contrives to stay after all the others have gone and receives an education in art, film, music, sensitivity, and sex.
Culkin uses a very strange delivery in which he spurts out his words in short phrases like he is having an asthma attack. This doesn't help the rather lame narration at the beginning that sets up the situation, nor the duologue that follows. However, it does give him the air of an insecure and smitten teenager.
The play is driven, however, by Joely Richardson, also making her New York debut, as Claudie Melville. Richardson's French accent is at times forced, but, like Miss Jean Brodie, her Madame Melville is so luminous one can overlook it. Her scenes with Robin Weigert as her American neighbor play like cinema vérité, not acting. Thomas Lynch's wonderful setting places an entire Paris apartment on stage, even though the play takes place mainly in the living room.