Woman Before a Glass review at Jermyn Street Theatre, London – ‘an impressive performance’
The painterly title Woman Before a Glass is suggestive of the male gaze. This one-woman play by Lanie Robertson – author of Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill – tells the life story of Peggy Guggenheim, a collector of contemporary art who lived on her own terms – though she would surely have been the first to admit that being an heiress helped to make this possible.
Taking place as Guggenheim approaches the third act of her life, it’s a gossipy, somewhat meandering piece stuffed with a generous number of bons mots. Tom McClane-Williamson’s staging, a recreation of Austin Pendleton’s New York production, largely succeeds in making the four monologues consistently dynamic.
Judy Rosenblatt is a forceful presence as Guggenheim, an Auntie Mame-like “extraordinary character”: brash, single-minded and uninhibited about discussing her eventful sex life, but also filled with worry about the future of her collection after her death and her depressive artist daughter Pegeen, as well as the feeling of being an outsider due to her Jewish heritage, a factor in her generosity towards starving artists. She surely would have been a formidable individual to encounter at a soiree.
This show allows us to enjoy Guggenheim’s presence in all its unfiltered glory at a safe distance. Perhaps most importantly, Woman Before a Glass imparts her impassioned plea for open-mindedness towards modern art as a tool that allows us to think for ourselves: something to bear in mind when next tempted to walk past something seemingly incomprehensible in a gallery.