Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Brief Encounter (The SOB Review)

Brief Encounter (The SOB Review) - Studio 54, Roundabout Theatre Company, New York City, New York

**** (out of ****)

Returning to any show that completely immerses you with one spellbinding ripple after another is often fraught with peril. Will it stand up the second time around or will those earlier memories suffer from a backwash that crashes hard from being far less satisfying?

In revisiting Emma Rice's excellent Brief Encounter, which opened last evening at Studio 54, I realized I need not have worried about whether this play with music would hold up to a repeated viewing or further scrutiny. As much as I loved the show earlier this year in Minneapolis, I found my heart and soul swimming yet again, this time even deeper in a sea of bliss. In short, Brief Encounter is better than ever.

Rice's ingenious adaptation of Noël Coward's screenplay cleverly punctuates live action -- often breaking the fourth wall -- with some of Coward's signature tunes. Before the show even begins, Rice sets the mood as her supporting players are out in the orchestra section of the theatre, serenading the audience as it playfully interacts with them as movie theater ushers from a bygone era. However, what they're really ushering in, quite simultaneously, are two distinct eras.

The first era harkens back to that pre-World War II time when Coward was in his prime. Brief Encounter is nothing if not a truly cinematic melodrama in which two lovers first meet by complete happenstance in a train depot restaurant. Laura (Hannah Yelland) gets a speck of dirt caught in her eye. Having already caught the eye of a doctor, Alec (Tristan Sturrock), she receives immediate attention from him.

But because this is England, circa 1930s, and these are English characters replete with the proverbial "stiff upper lip," the inhabitants of Brief Encounter are quite proper, if not repressed, in expressing themselves and their feelings. Compounding the matter for Laura is that she's a married mother of two who has settled into a humdrum life. As much as the spark of love from Alec appeals to her, she's reticent in allowing herself to be completely swept away.

Which leads to the second era that those Brief Encounter ushers have shown our way to -- a new era in theatre that seamlessly blends the live action on (and off) the stage with silver screen images and Gemma Carrington and Jon Driscoll's Tony-worthy projection design (if there actually were such a category). The result is a theatrical experience unlike any other -- theatre of the future. That experience allows unfettered access into the hearts and minds of Laura and Alec as love's crashing waves wash over them, almost quite literally.

Yelland and Sturrock are picture perfect as the two lovers. While Alec may go overboard for Laura in more than the figurative sense, neither Yelland or Sturrock overplay their hands into anything resembling camp -- a decidedly difficult task when doing melodrama.

Rice's supporting cast is equally superb, including Annette McLaughlin as Myrtle, the restaurant proprietor, and Joseph Alessi in the dual roles as Myrtle's suitor and Laura's husband. Gabriel Ebert and Adam Pleeth will melt your heart with their splendid renditions of some of Coward's most tuneful songs.

The magnificent Brief Encounter succeeds on so many levels, but particularly because it dares to be different. It'll have you swooning, too.

This is Steve On Broadway (SOB).

In keeping with the new Federal Trade Commission (FTC) regulations that unfairly discriminate against bloggers, who are now required by law to disclose when they have received anything of value they might write about, please note that I have received nothing of value in exchange for this post.

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At 29 September, 2010, Anonymous Chris Caggiano said...

I bought a ticket based on your previous raves. So it had better be good, y'hear? BTW, *loved* the footage of you getting Blackwelled. Dat girl, She crazy.

At 29 September, 2010, Blogger Esther said...

I've got my ticket, too and I'm psyched! Do you think I need to see the movie beforehand to fully appreciate it?

At 29 September, 2010, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Chris and Esther, Since other critics are also swooning, I don't feel I'm overselling it. Just be prepared to be swept away.

And Esther, I have never seen the film, but may try to now that I've seen the stage show a second time. You'll be fine without a viewing.

At 29 September, 2010, Blogger JK said...

Add me to the list of those who have tickets because of your raves, Steve!

I don't think I'll be able to wait until November...


At 04 October, 2010, Blogger Dale said...

I'm on board and will be seeing it this Thursday! Can't wait.


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