Peggy Gugenheim was a woman far ahead of her time – born in 1898, she was deemed as one of the great ‘scandalisers’ of the 20th century, a New York socialite pursuing freedom in love, work and sexual liberation. Her legacy burns brightly due to her passionate devotion and contribution to the arts, both culturally and financially, and Laine Robertson’s one woman play brings Peggy to life in the Jermyn Street Theatre, just yards away from one of her esteemed galleries. The fourth wall is well and truly broken down in Woman Before a Glass, as Judy Rosenblatt carries us through Peggy’s inner dialogue exploring personal and professional woes and witty admissions throughout a specific time in her career and personal life.
Although Rosenblatt is engaging and warm, the tone and format of this one-sided conversation doesn’t feel entirely natural or intuitive, and thus the narrative feels fractured and non-linear. One particular scene sees Peggy converse with her daughter, but unfortunately the silence she’s greeted with makes for an unconvincing exchange, and therefore the potential depth of the narrative is unfortunately lost. Whilst the audience is very much in the palm of the narrator’s hand, it’s unclear as to why Peggy is addressing us, and so the meta format isn’t executed with enough transparency to feel credible or comfortable.
Erika Rodriguez’s simple set design is charming and authentic, and serves as a brilliant canvas from which Rosenblatt stylishly and vivaciously embodies Peggy and vividly conjures an eclectic art collection into the imaginations of the audience. Her charismatic stage presence is compelling and convincing, and Catherine Siracusa’s costume design adds a timelessly stylish dimension to both the character and the overall narrative. While some scenes are light-hearted and crude, we also see a more nuanced representation of Gugenheim, but of course the constrains of 90 minutes are not sufficient enough to explore and address the multiple dimensions of such a complex woman.
Woman Before a Glass is highly entertaining and stylish, and offers a window into an extremely influential time, shining a light on a human being that influenced the arts in a unique and powerful way. That her story is lived and breathed in theatre is entirely apt, but one wonders whether this production exhibits the depth and dynamic that she deserves.