Wednesday, October 03, 2012
(photo: Carol Rosegg)
I was excited to see this play billed as a peek into the backstage lives of Alfred Lunt and Lynne Fontanne, who ruled the English and American stages before, during and after WWII. It seemed great fodder for a clever and glittering evening.
Instead, playwright Jeffery Hatcher brings us a bit of theatre history as Alfred and Lynnie prepare for the 1938 revival of Chekov's The Seagull. Had he done only that, it still could have been that evening of sophisticated for which I had hoped.
What we get is a plodding adaptation of Chekov's The Seagull overlaid onto that preparation. One can't deny that the parallels existed: Miss Fontanne/Arkadina, the aging actress, Mr. Lunt/Trigorin, a bit younger and the love of Fontanne/Arkadina's life, Uta Hagen/Nina, the upcoming starlet, and so on.
The notion that Chekov referred to some of his plays as comedies is generally a dubious concept when compared to the western idea of what comedy means. Mr. Hatcher writes in the same ambivalent manner, even giving Miss Fontanne a line about Chekov's comedies that rang closer to home than he might have intended, "When the Russians say comedy, they don't mean funny." Sadly, neither does Mr. Hatcher, leaving the audience with a mopey melodrama, punched up with an occasional laugh line.
The very talented cast never overcomes the weakness in the script. And, if you're looking for a clever tie-in to the play's title, keep looking because I could identify one.
Having admired Mr. Jennings' performances in several divergent stage appearances over the last several years, I was a bit disappointed in his interpretation as Alfred. Gentlemen of that period, certainly his close friend Noel Coward, exhibited a sophistication which might appear fey to less wordly eyes. Here, Mr. Jennings fails to walk that fine line and falls to feminine caricature. Carolyn McCormick fares no better as Lynne. Even in the rehearsal scenes where such a large persona should fill the theatre, she never takes command of the stage, minimizing her performance with focus only on her fellow actors. Her diction is also lacking, tossing away a significant number of lines for such a skilled character. As the young Uta, Julia Bray gives merely a bland portrayal of the actress about to burst onto Broadway and impact acting for her generation and beyond.
Director Dan Wackerman shares some of the responsibility for their performances, not finding a better pace or approach to shore up the flaws in the script. There was enough history to keep me there for the second act, but I did notice more empty seats after intermission than before.
Ten Chimneys runs through October 27. Tickets are available through www.ThePeccadillo.com or by calling OvationTix at 212-352-3101.