ECSTASY by Mike Leigh. See listings, this page. Rating: NNN
Mike Leigh's slice-of-life drama would be tangier if it were tighter. Developed through actor improv like his memorable films (Life Is Sweet, Secrets And Lies), it focuses on a quartet of former pals reminiscing and finding they can still connect through tears and laughter. Think a 70s Friends, with quiet moments and a passionate edge.
Too bad Leigh sets up this meeting in the first act but then spends too much time on the background of central figure Jean (Mary Krohnert), who keeps up a happy face for others but can't escape an alcohol-fuelled emotional numbness. The act only comes to life with the arrival of Siobhan Power's Dawn, who radiates energy whenever she's onstage.
In the longer and better second act, the two women, Dawn's husband Mick (Craig Dean) and recently returned bud Len (David Christo) chew over their past. Krohnert's character reveals a psychological subtext she lacked earlier, the foursome really feel like old friends, and director Anthony Grani plays nicely with the shifting tones.
What he can't do is solve the script's problematic ending, which emotially shortchanges the audience in its last few minutes.