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‘The Forgotten Woman’ review: The fat lady sings at Bay Street

Ashlie Atkinson stars in the title role of

Ashlie Atkinson stars in the title role of "The Forgotten Woman" at Bay Street Theater. Photo Credit: Lenny Stucker

WHAT “The Forgotten Woman”

WHEN | WHERE 2 and 7 p.m. Wednesday and Sunday; 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday nights; 7 p.m. Tuesday night, through June 19, Bay Street Theater, Long Wharf, Sag Harbor

TICKETS $25-$125; 631-725-9500, baystreet.org

Who is “The Forgotten Woman”? Is she a former Somebody? Or is she the still-nobody soprano who, on the big night of her career, riffs on the aphorism “It ain’t over till the fat lady sings.”

In Jonathan Tolins’ smart-but-sometimes-overwrought play set a few years after 9/11, the “fat lady” — weight is her lifelong issue — got her first break when another soprano refused to fly after that horrific event. Margaret left behind a 2-year-old to take that flight to Austria. She’s been verging on stardom ever since. As Erick, a talent agency underling, says, “She’s been ‘promising’ for a long time.” A Chicago gig, singing the title role in Strauss’ “Ariadne auf Naxos,” may be her last shot at a breakthrough that might land her primo roles at the Metropolitan Opera in Puccini’s “Tosca” or Verdi’s “La Traviata.”

Rudolph — a controlling, insecure worrywart frowningly played by Robert Stanton — discovered her in a blackout as a school chorale was about to sing the “Hallelujah Chorus.” Usually withdrawn because of her weight, Margaret, feeling empowered by the anonymity of darkness, blew the room away with her soaring voice. Recognizing talent, Rudolph, the pianist accompanying the chorale, began coaching Margaret. Then he married her.

At Dekalb High, Margaret only had eyes for Steve, who played opposite her in “Hello Dolly!” What a surprise when, days before the opening of “Ariadne,” Steve shows up to interview her for the Chicago Tribune. A celebrity reporter, he’s not only an opera ignoramus, he hates all culture outside of pop. As Steve, Darren Goldstein is charmingly obnoxious in arguing with conviction that the “high arts” are dominated by snobs. We want to hate him, as Erick and Rudolph demonstrably do. Mark Junek as Erick counters with an impassioned but too-long-as-written recollection of a night at the opera not even the Marx Brothers topped.

Margaret, a luminous, quixotic mess as played by Ashlie Atkinson, still has a crush on Steve. He’s divorced; she’s her husband’s meal ticket. The bellhop (Justin Mark) is the only impartial voice in the room — a hotel suite (swanky design by Tim Mackabee, framed periodically by Chagall-like images colorfully lit by David Lander, embroidered by Jess Goldstein’s opera-worthy costumes).

As directed by Noah Himmelstein, Atkinson has us rooting for Margaret. So we won’t tell what happens after the fat lady sings.

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