Last week I briefly mentioned the Roundabout's revival of Pal Joey, and an issue I had with a particular acting choice. I should qualify the statement by saying my qualm involves more than just Stockard's Channing decisions: It starts with Richard Greenberg's tweaking of the book and Joe Mantello's direction, and spreads to Stocks's interpretation of her role.
The main plot line involves the affair between the young, caddish Joey Evans and the older, much wealthier Mrs. Vera Simpson. She picks him up in the nightclub where he sings, has her way with him in her luxury pad, buys him his own boîte in exchange for delicious sexual favors (the show makes it clear that Joey has what it takes to make a woman of the world very happy indeed). This angle was played to the hilt in the Encores! revival of 1995: Patti LuPone's Vera pretty much bought herself a living, breathing sex toy. And when her unseen husband made it known she wasn't quite discreet enough, Vera dumped Joey in a carefree manner that implied that far from heartbroken, she'd soon move on to another stud.
In the current production, Vera clearly has feelings for Joey; when she ends things up, it is with a sadness that suggests this was her last hurrah—not only as a sexual woman, but as a woman, period. Of course the creative team may have thought this made more sense, considering Channing is 64 to LuPone's 46 at the time. But this strikes me as retrograde: There is something liberating—and liberated—about a musical in which a woman's main relationship is purely hedonistic. In other words, she is allowed to have sex with just the right amount of feeling, which in this particular case is very little. Alas now Vera Simpson ends up a sad sack, not a triumphant conqueror.