“When you come out, you may be saying to yourself, “If Robert Altman can do that with a piece of sausage, think what he could do with a good script. But it’s possible that Sandy Dennis, Cher, Karen Black, and, in a lesser role, Marta Heflin are able to do so much with their parts because of the cheesy mythmaking undertones of the material. If the roles made better sense, the actresses might not be able to plunge so far down inot themselves or pull up so much emotion. It’s because this glib, religioso play is so derivative that the actors have found so much depth in it. When actors peel away layers of inhibition, they feel they’re uncovering “truth” and it’s traditional for directors and acting teachers to call it that. But this truth may be derived from their stored-up pop mythology—atrocity stories from sources as diverse as comic books, TV, and Joan Didion, and tales of sacrificial heroes and heroines that go back beyond the birth of movies to the first storytellers. “Truthful” acting may be affecting to us because it represents the sum total of everything the actors have been affected by. It comes from areas far below conscious technique; it’s true to their psyches. To use the theatre term, the performers here have made the roles “their own.” They may think they’re finding meanings in the material, but actually they’re adding them. If they didn’t—if they stayed within the surface of the play—they’d be dead.
“As the more than slightly mad Mona, Sandy Dennis is the linchpin of the production, and if you’re not fascinated by the way Mona tries to distance herself from the life about her and from her own sensuality you might find the film intolerable. Sometimes it may seem that not much separates a superb Sandy Dennis performance from an irritating one, since she uses some of the same mannerisms in both. But when her tics are right for a role she can zoom off and come up with things no one else would have dreamt of. I found her impossible in her starring vehicles (the 1967 Up the Down Staircase and the 1968 Sweet November) but a droopy joy in the 1970 The Out-of-Towners and unfailingly funny in the 1977 Nasty Habits. And she brought something weirdly human to last year’s The Four Seasons. (She was the only person in it I could have any feeling for.) Mona is her most extravagant creation: nervous and nostrilly and ladylike, a woman who hides in dowdy clothes yet can’t resist wearing her thick, curly red hair soft and loose—floating about her, aureole style. Even Mona’s affectations—which center on how fine-grained and sensitive and asthmatic she is—are of the flesh. She’s compeelingly strange and repressed, yet carnal, and, I think, very beautiful (she’s a little like Piper Laurie in Carrie), and when she’s angry she’s frighteningly bossy. She gets “burned up,” and y ou can see why the people around her don’t challenge her stories: Mona’s grip on her fantasies is the strongest thing about her. I admired the performance that Sandy Dennis gave in Altman’s 1969 That Cold Day in the Park, but it was a much more held-in character; Mona—a delusionary romantic—is far more stirring. And Sandy Dennis takes more chances as an actress now. The way the role is written, Mona is a hand-me-down from Tennessee Williams; complaining of the small-minded small-town people, she’s a cow-country Blanche DuBois. She has some of Blanche’s frailty; that’s why it’s so shocking when she yells—you don’t expect her to be able to sustain that much emotion….”
The New Yorker, November 15, 1982
Taking It All In, pp. 414-415