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Forgive me if I start out with a pun to describe the new comedy The Lady in the Van. It’s basically little more than a vehicle for the legendary actress Maggie Smith. To add insult to injury, I’ll continue with another pun: it’s a pretty stalled vehicle when all is said and done.
The cental premise is based on something that sorta, kinda happened to the British playwright Alan Bennett (The History Boys, The Madness of King George). After striking up a conversation with the neighborhood bag lady who lives in her van, and after not being able to shake her off, the playwright acquiesces to her suggestion that she park her vehicle in his driveway. He agrees, more out of an inability (or cowardice as he describes it) to say no. It’s only supposed to be for a little while, but she stays there until she dies fifteen years later.
Even though this is a vehicle for Maggie Smith, she is only fitfully effective, and I think that this may be because her character is more a construct than a real person. I mean, Bennett’s bag lady here is not your run of the mill everyday type of bag lady. No, here she is a former concert pianist and ex-nun who has gone into hiding because she thinks she is responsible for the death of a motorcyclist (she’s not) and who is being blackmailed by a police officer.Continue reading →