THE RUBENSTEIN KISS
by James Phillips.
Nottingham Playhouse Wellington Circus NG1 5AF To 17 October 2015.
Tue-Sat 7.45pm Mat Thu 1.30pm.
Audio-described 14 Oct.
BSL Signed 16 Oct.
Captioned 15 Oct 7.45pm.
Runs 2hr 45min One interval.
TICKETS: 0115 941 9419.
Review: Alan Geary 6 October 2015.
Based on fact – lengthy, wordy yet absorbing.
At the very start we’re in a gallery displaying iconic photos from the fifties. The spirits sink: this must be a patronisingly klunky clue that The Rubenstein Kiss is set in that decade. Wrong: it is indeed an art gallery, but in the seventies, and it’s the location of one of the most touching and effective scenes in a play that’s not only subtle but complex and satisfying.
A young couple get into a discussion about one of the pictures, The Rubenstein Kiss, and, reasonably enough, fall in love. Their story is the framing device for the main plot, which is based on the real-life forties Rosenberg Case. A married couple were arrested for spying for the Soviets and eventually executed. They became a worldwide cause célèbre, with many convinced of their innocence.
The Rosenberg/Rubenstein change allows scope for artistic licence. A fictional element, the framing device, is attached to the facts, and eventually the two get mixed together. An excellent idea, but – and this is a major flaw in the play – it involves a coincidence over-stretching credulity. The other problem is that the play is unnecessarily long.
It’s wordy as well, with unnaturally intense and elevated flights of conversation reminding one of Arthur Miller. He, Monroe and Clarke Gable are motifs that crop up all the time, along with Puccini’s Madame Butterfly. The entire cast deliver a beautifully crafted but demanding text with skill; and the 1940s New York-Jewish accent is never allowed to get out of hand.
Joe Cohen is superb as Jakob Rubenstein, the Communist idealist with a blind spot about Stalin. So is Katherine Manners as Esther Rubenstein. The love they share, symbolised by that picture, holds the play together to the bitter end. It’s holy and erotic. And Cornell S John, as FBI interrogator Paul Cramer, authoritative and humane, is a terrific presence.
A super set design allow unfussy changes in time and location.
This is about betrayal, but by implication also about conflicting loyalties, to ideas and ideologies and people. First and foremost though, it’s about the ultimate power of love.
Jakob Rubenstein: Joe Coen.
Esther Rubenstein: Katherine Manners.
David Girshfield: Mark Field.
Rachel Liebermann: Ellie Burrow.
Paul Cranmer: Cornell S John.
Matthew: Simon Haines.
Anna: Gillian Saker.
Director: Zoë Waterman.
Designer: Bronia Housman.
Lighting: Richard G Jones.
Sound/Musical Director: Edward Lewis.