by Lanford Wilson.

Donmar Warehouse Earlham Street To 27 March.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mat Thu & Sat 2.30pm.
Audio-described 13 March 2.30pm (+Touch tour 1.30pm).
BSL Signed 4 March 7.30pm.
Captioned 16 March.
TICKETS: 0844 871 7624.

then Tour to 17 April 2010.
Runs 2hr 15min One interval.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 20 February.

Actions speak louder than words, but words predominate.
A tale of upwardly mobile white collar couples in late sixties Chicago, Serenading Louie is a play from a stylish dramatist that has a stylistic trick or two up its sleeve. Its basic staging device is one Alan Ayckbourn had used the year before in 1969’s How the Other Half Loves. Like Ayckbourn, Wilson has two contrasting couples, though here the contrast lies in the dynamics of the marriages.

As in the Ayckbourn, the stage is simultaneously a room in two homes, Gabriel and Alex’s, and Carl and Mary’s. Its bland mass-affluence décor is identical for both couples, unlike Ayckbourn’s depiction of financial differences. Most importantly with Wilson, the device creates decidedly different tones.

There’s something chilling about the way these people can pass in their parallel lives, crossing the stage without noticing each other, an abrupt noise in one home producing no effect in an actor, who of course in stage reality is some way distant.

The trouble, though, is the talk, which focuses on the men and their impending mid-life crises, for even Alex wondering whether to stand for political office has little focus. The women are more interesting, Mary with her neatly-presented self and extra-marital affair, and Gabrielle, a marital victim constantly trying to placate and interest Alex, who’s perpetually fatigued with her (he’s first seen lying across the sofa as the TV plays-on).

She’d be better resorting to the cliché of a rolling-pin. But she wouldn’t. Not Gabrielle. Four decades on, these women are far more interesting than the men whose inward-looking concerns the playwright indulges at length.

Charlotte Emmerson’s sympathetic performance (yet one never overtly seeking sympathy) highlights Gabrielle’s constant search for the response her husband will never make in a marriage designed far from heaven, while Geraldine Somerville points up Mary’s purposiveness. But Simon Curtis’s deft production is all round well-acted, while designer Peter McKintosh combines the room’s anonymity with an oversized window through which these individuals are dimly seen hurrying to lives elsewhere, or in the case of Alex to help his friend, whose friendship means more to him than his wife’s love.

Gabrielle: Charlotte Emmerson.
Alex: Jason Butler Harner.
Carl: Jason O’Mara.
Mary: Geraldine Somerville.

Director: Simon Curtis.
Designer: Peter McKintosh.
Lighting: Guy Hoare.
Sound/Composer: Adam Cork.

2010-03-03 07:06:15

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