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Oscar and the Pink Lady

Rosemary Harris is the only reason to see Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt's overlong and oversweet meditation on life and death.

By San Diego
Rosemary Harris in Oscar and the Pink Lady
(© Craig Schwartz)
Rosemary Harris in Oscar and the Pink Lady
(© Craig Schwartz)
When I first heard the title Oscar and the Pink Lady, I hoped I might see a new comedy about Oscar Wilde and a colorful cocktail. Unfortunately that's not what Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt's overlong play, now receiving its U.S. premiere at San Diego's Old Globe Theatre's Cassius Carter Centre Stage, is about. Instead this one-person multi-character piece, set in a children's ward of a hospital, is a syrupy-sweet meditation on life and death, the innocence of children, and one's belief in God. Moreover, Frank Dunlop's syrupy direction further oversweetens this light confection.

Fortunately, the one saving grace of this production is the chance to see theatrical legend Rosemary Harris up close. At age 80, Harris is a wonder as she breathes life not only into Granny Pink, an elderly candy striper, but also into the 10-year-old Oscar and his friends. Her joy of performing is infectious and her acting technique is a marvel to witness. One just wishes the material was worth her time and effort.

The action begins when Granny Pink returns to Oscar's room to pack up his belongings after his death. Among his possessions she discovers a box of letters he had written to God at her suggestion. As she reads the letters, she enacts the last days of Oscar and his adventures on the ward. Oscar had no notion of God at the outset of his stay at the hospital; but when his bone marrow transplant operation failed and his doctor presented his parents with a life expectancy of less than two weeks, Granny Pink introduced him to the concept of a benevolent God who likes to receive letters. She also fosters the idea that every day is really 10 years of his life.

This leads to Oscar expressing ideas way beyond his plausible experience. Words such as philanderer and Sanskrit soon dot his vocabulary. True, his ward nickname is "Egghead" -- but not because he's super-bright, but rather because he's bald as an egg from chemotherapy.

Moreover, Oscar's letters are also way too precious. While it is fun to hear about his ward mates Bacon (a burn victim) and Peggy Blue (Oscar's crush, a girl with a condition that has given her skin a blue tinge) and the tall tales of Granny Pink's fictional wrestling career, the whimsy soon wears out its welcome and is replaced by a heavy dose of bathos. It's not enough that Oscar's final dozen days come during the Christmas season and are due to expire on New Year's Eve; we are also subjected to repeated airings of "The Twelve Days of Christmas."

Schmitt has become one of the most popular French-language authors in the world with his series of tales dealing with childhood and spirituality. Perhaps something was lost in translation here. But as it stands, even with Harris front and center, the show is a very long two hours.


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