Friday, October 14, 2011

Theatre review: "The End of the Affair" from Quantum Theatre-Sunday 16th October 2011

Graham Greene’s novel,The End of the Affair, a somewhat personal exploration of romantic liasons in London during World War II, has been admired so much that it has been transformed into two films and an opera. Quantum Theatre’s Karla Boos has turned it into a play and it is currently world-premiering.

The underlying story seems simple enough. Writer Maurice Bendrix and Sarah Miles, the wife of civil servant Henry Miles, fall in love and struggle to sort out their lives together and separately, ruminating on their feelings. With Bendrix frequently narrating, Boos encapsulates the story with just three actors in 90 minutes. One can appreciate such modest dimensions given the elemental premise. But her script lacks an essential: clarifying the various years in which things take place. They do not occur sequentially and time is frequently crossed. The program book also does not specify. Director Martin Giles could have helped audiences in that regard. He also failed to provide such essential information when staging Quantum’s production of When The Rain Stops Falling.

His excellent cast convincingly delivers all of the speeches in a sturdy pace and in intelligible accents, while, occasionally, a few vivid displays of feeling emerge. In what most looks like a case-study of emotionally constrained English people amid the dreariness of their time and place, who can readily identify with them or care about them? Not I, for one.

These aliens, conversing in civilized ways in language much like our own, dressed in drab clothes, regularly got soaked in dirty rain and ate ugly food. Certainly they also heroically endured the ravages of incessant deadly bombings and must be admired and respected for their resilience. But this play only deals with that part of their lives once. Death and destruction regularly rained from the skies tearing apart their beloved city. Yet Maurice and Sarah initially don’t even discuss it as a moderate inconvenience, until he is injured and feared dead. Which is the crux of how the affair ends. You’d think such constant danger would have intensified their initial need for love and tenderness, yet that significant, meaningful theme remains undeveloped.

Maurice, whose self-reflections become the dominant element of this version of The End of the Affair, often speaks of passion, of love and hate as if from the outside, describing feelings as abstractions, rather than being moved by them. Sarah also discourses objectively about her own behavior. Both occasionally get emotional but, more often, in their self-analyzing ways, remain as remote as their period and their culture.

Tony Bingham’s performance as Maurice reminds me of Dana Andrews uni-dimensional leading man roles in 1940s movies. A handsome face delivering lines capably but with nothing much behind them. A shadow in a world of black and white. Bingham, often a colorful actor, here sounds as if attempting to be so English that his own personality has been submerged in the gloom. Gayle Pazerski’s take on Sarah just as much lacks specific personality, despite obvious physical fragility. Neither comes across enough as special or distinct, as if Giles worked hard to make them authentic instead of having them get inside themselves and inside deeper feelings. And yet, James Fitzgerald, as the husband Henry, succeeds in the deliberately right look of a genuinely boring person, whose insecurities make him real and sad.

Giles or Karla Boos in her script call for total frontal nudity several times. You can certainly see that it makes the lovers seem vulnerable and human. Moreover Giles insightfully has them, in their oh-so-English way, carefully undress in an orderly manner never uncontrollably leaping onto the bed and onto each other. These surfaces work well as do the intentionally shabby details of Tony Ferrieri’s sets.

The performances, appropriately, take place in drab surroundings, within a back room of the former Emma Kaufmann Clinic of Pittsburgh’s Polish Hill. The address is 3028 Brereton Street. But you could find yourself confused since that address is the closed front of the building and the performances are at the back, one block away on one-lane Phalen Street on which there is no parking. You may need extra time to get oriented and to walk the distance. Directions are at Quantum’s website:

Performances of The End of the Affair continue through October 30th. Tickets are at Showclix: 1-888-71 TICKETS of 1-888-718 4253.

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