Humor, pathos, and Jessica Tandy

Salonika Play by Louise Page. Directed by John Madden. Octogenarian Charlotte (Jessica Tandy) and her middle-aged daughter Enid (Elizabeth Wilson) have come from the north of England to Greece to visit the World War I cemetery where Charlotte's husband lies buried. The time is the present. The occasion and setting serve the reflections of Louise Page's ``Salonika,'' the bleak and leisurely new British import at the Public/ Anspacher Theater.

``Salonika'' joins present and past through the uses of fantasy. Charlotte and Enid take more or less in stride the nude young Adonis whom they discover lying face down on their chosen spot of beach. They set up their chairs. While Charlotte knits, the women pursue their desultory conversation, and make their cups of tea. It turns out that the sun bather is no Greek but a young British drifter named Peter (Maxwell Caulfield). Of far more concern to Enid is the soon arriving Leonard (Thomas Hill), an ardent widower whom Charlotte contemplates marrying.

The haunting past intrudes when the ghost of Charlotte's deceased husband, Ben (David Strathairn), emerges from the sand. The pale apparition confronts the living, updates himself on recent events, and stirs memories of various kinds. The situation matches absurdity with pathos. The frailties of age are measured against the mortality of youth: first, with the casual materialization of Ben and, later, with the author's arbitrary disposal of Peter.

With all of its symbolism and metaphor, ``Salonika'' basically concerns the pursuit of love and the effects of loving.

Miss Page treats her Salonika casuals with a kind of tender regard. If no one else cares about them, the playwright does. However, because of its tenuous, inconclusive, and fragmentary nature, ``Salonika'' grips the spectator too lightly for the play's own good. Compensations occur mostly in the sensitive performance staged by John Madden. Miss Tandy's resolute, humorous, slightly forgetful Charlotte, and Miss Wilson's forlorn but devoted Enid sustain a mutually dependent relationship. The men of this Grecian encounter are well played by Messrs. Caulfield, Strathairn, and Hill. The glistening sand and bright blue sky of Andrew Jackness's setting, under the simulated Aegean sunshine of Paul Gallo's lighting, contrast brightly with the somber prospects of Miss Page's beached characters. Dunya Ramicova costumed the production.

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