Ellen Burstyn is the 'Old Confederate Widow'

    The Old Globe’s 2003 season is off to a powerful start with the world premiere of “”The Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All.”” This original production tells the story of Lucy Marsden, a woman who now, at the age of 99, is “”still more or less standing.””

    Courtesy of Globe Theatres

    This new production is based on the book by Allan Gurganus, which has spent eight months on the New York Times bestseller list and has been translated into 12 languages. Now it is being brought to the stage in this powerful performance that is sure to captivate and impress the viewer.

    What makes this play so powerful is that it is a one-woman show. For over two hours, Ellen Burstyn becomes Marsden and takes the audience through the ups and downs, the trials and tribulations of her life as a young girl of 15 marrying a man 35 years her senior, all the way to her life now, almost 85 years later.

    Burstyn, who has won both Oscar and Tony awards over her extensive career in film and theatre, does a wonderful job becoming Marsden, a woman who has seen nearly a century of struggle, yet still finds joy in her past as well as her present. She makes it impossible not to love the honest, open, smiling Marsden. However, even more remarkable than Burstyn’s portrayal of Marsden is the way that she makes Marsden portray the people she is talking about in the stories she tells.

    The set itself is simple — the interior of a nursing home — but it becomes a powerful aid to the production. Images are projected onto the large, blank back wall of the set to help give a visual representation of the picture that is being painted by Burstyn. The lighting is also used artfully to accompany the rollercoaster of emotions that run through the production.

    The audience itself becomes an integral part of the performance. The play is written as though Marsden is talking to a group who has come to the nursing home to listen to her tell her story, since she is now “”the oldest living Confederate widow,”” and she is very eager to share the tales of her long life with them. It helps to make the audience feel at ease because she is talking to them and even integrates them into the show at times.

    This does seem to be a drawback at times, because Burstyn has no one except the audience to react to, which means that there are times when she may not get the reaction she expects, but she has to work with it anyway. And she does, very well.

    This is a wonderful production that draws the viewer in and keeps them interested and involved throughout the production. “”The Oldest Living Confederate Widow”” is running now through Jan. 28. Performances are Tuesdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m., Sundays at 7 p.m., and Saturdays and Sundays at 2 p.m. at the Old Globe Theatre in Balboa Park. Tickets range from $19 to $50, and there are discounts for students, seniors and military. Tickets can be purchased at the box office of the theater or by calling (619) 239-2255.

    Don’t miss your chance to see this production of “”the last living veteran of that war”” before it heads to Broadway later this year.

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