Tilted House by Susan Eve Haar. Directed by Linsay Firman.
Reviewed by J. Peter Bergman
Victor and Alex Slezak; photo provided
"...composed entirely of yearnings."
When a play throws around grandiose imagery in the mouths of folks who should know better, you know youíre in trouble. Clay, a youngish author, a Scots novelist with a sexy hankering for another manís wife, tells her that when he sees her he becomes "composed entirely of yearnings." That happens in scene one after he enters her bedroom, barefoot, through her window, drink in hand.What follows is the usual seduction scene in which she shows little interest in him and then they are discovered by her husband, a man who hopes to become Clayís editor. Clearly there are a lot of "yearnings" at work here, especially when we can see that the wife isnít particularly interested in the husband. What follows for two acts is a lot of literary, and literate, chatter.
Even when passions rear their ugly heads they are referred to by the participants in passionís play in the following manner: "Your body feels like an alternative universe," she says after sex. Later in the second act she tells him that he has an "inability to adapt to the new." After two acts of this play, so do I, I fear.
Not that the story isnít compelling. It is. Not that the people and their motives arenít of interest. They are. It is just that the playwright gets in the way of the story she is telling by making all of her characters speak in an artificial manner that only serves to get between them and the audience. One man in front of me at the intermission said, "After this play I may have to get a divorce." I disagree with that theory entirely. After this play I may have to find an alternative universe where this play does not exist.
The production at the Chester Theatre Company is actually lovely to look at. Tony Andreaís set depicting several spaces at a beach house on Fire Island, and a nearby motel, are glorious, a triumph of design. Kara D. Midlamís costumes present each of the players at their most appropriate. The atmospheric lighting designed by Jill Nagle is just about right for every scene. Tom Shread bathes the theater in beach sounds and music and adds appreciably to the world created by the director.
The cast is superb. Michael Milligan, even with his high receding hairline, makes an excellent romantic swain for the beautiful and throaty Annie played to perfection by Ylfa Edelstein. In both cases they are to be commended for keeping a straight face while uttering their most ridiculous lines. She has a particularly difficult time with it because she has to say hers to both men and listen to Milligan utter his gormless speeches
Playing opposite these two stalwarts are the Slezaks, Victor and Alex. Victor Slezak is Robert, husband to Annie, craver of the newest achievement of author Clay. He has some of the most difficult lines to pull off with his characterís emotions quivering under constant changes and indecisive moments. How he pulls it off is almost worth the price of admission. As Henry, son of Robert and Annie, is Alex Slezak, Victorís own son - a fledgling first-grader. Alex is almost as good an actor as his father with his emotions out front and honest.
This fine company of players has to dart in and out of scenes, some so short they feel intrusive, and somehow make the whole thing work. The writing works against them and the director has seemingly done all she can do to hold the piece together.
One issue that this play deals with, and one that is at the core of the emotional tale it tells, is Synesthesia, a condition in which one type of stimulation evokes the sensation of another. For example the hearing of a sound produces the visualization of a color. Sense impressions are a major part of Clayís makeup, of his work, possibly of his peculiarities of expression. This manifestation, a personal flaw in his makeup, becomes a crux issue in Act Two and it almost redeems the writing.
Sadly, nothing could. The playís basic problem is not that easily solved. The playwright needs to get over the possibilities in language and find a form of speech that makes sense for people to utter and to listen to without screaming, holding the throat and dropping to floor in hysterical fits of laughter.
◊08/15/08◊ Seen one performance prior to opening
Tilted House plays at the Chester Theater Company through August 24. Tickets are $24.50 - $29.50. For schedules and tickets call the box office at 413-354-7771 or find them online at www.chestertheatre.org.
This theater has a new policy: Buy a ticket and if you want to see the show again, you can have another ticket free. The idea behind this is that actors change and grow and an audience might want to see how the characters develop over the course of a run. Of course, you can also convince another friend to join you and buy a ticket. And why not!