By Catherine Wagley
By Channing Sargent
By L.A. Weekly critics
By Amanda Lewis
By Catherine Wagley
By Carol Cheh
By Keegan Hamilton
By Bill Raden
Remarkably, for their playing women at opposite ends of the social spectrum -- and even with their authentic-sounding dialects -- both Glyllenhaal and De Mornay’s performances seem cut from the same cloth, with lines blurted rather than spoken and interpretations emanating from the performers‘ own, admittedly appealing qualities, here steaming along full throttle without a rudder.
David Jenkins’ set -- a quartet of aluminum-rimmed chairs, plywood platforms and backdrops of corrugated fiberglass and brick, accompanied somewhat jarringly by the idiosyncratic strains of Bjork (sound design by Jon Gottlieb) -- folds right into the production‘s industrial-clinical tone.
Finally, though, there’s the play itself, a roundelay in which the final rounds seem an exercise in redundancy and diminishing returns. Though there‘s a geometric beauty to Marber’s structure, around which human billiard balls ricochet before drifting apart, what are we supposed to glean from people who spend all their free time discussing ex-lovers, mostly for the sake of unnerving their current partners or friends? Is the view that there‘s little erotic mystique to nice men and needy women, and that we desire what we can’t have, supposed to pass for earth-shattering insight? It might, if you‘re in the 10th grade.
Lady Chatterly’s Lover is so much stronger. Director Vreeke, who originally staged the adaptation for Seattle‘s Book It repertory, has ably translated Lawrence’s third-person narrative into dramatic action, so that each member of the ensemble (Lesley Fera, Michael Tulin, Timothy Murphy, Andi Carnick, Amy Warner and Bruce French) can comment upon his or her own and others‘ characters in asides that, miraculously, feel neither labored nor like an intrusion upon the dialogue.
The narration is vital: Were the adaptation merely dialogue, the result would be the pornography that Lawrence was once accused of writing. In the narrative lies the literary justification for why Constance betrays her invalid husband, Clifford (Tulin), for hours of sex in the straw with their robust gameskeeper, Mellors (the excellent Murphy). No rimshots here, and no cheap thrills; Constance’s thrills come very expensive indeed, drawing Lawrence‘s condemnation of the artificial barriers between the classes, as well as those between the lives of the flesh and the mind. As Constance begins to physically implode, Clifford tells her he’s sympathetic with her need for sex, encouraging her to holiday in Venice; if she returns pregnant, he says, he‘ll treat the child as his own. But he feels less magnanimous toward her as he begins to command power in the town, and learns that she’s been fucking his own employee right under his nose -- constituting a threat to his masculinity and his social position, and a comment on how the two are intertwined. In an example of Lawrence‘s antiquated socialism, Mellors complains that industrial labor physically and spiritually turns men into twisted husks, incapable of feeling -- as though sexual repression and pornography had never been heard of before the industrial revolution. But at least the work’s emotional tone rings truer than its philosophical one.
As Constance, Fera is one of those performers who, like Kaitlin Hopkins, has a hypnotic aura under the stage lights, as amorphous clouds of self-possession, intelligence and silky sensuality keep folding into each other. This isn‘t to belittle the others in the grand cast who, similarly, find the musicality in Lawrence’s words and agility in their own movements, all the while generating a fair amount of heat from the story‘s none-too-subtle erotic charge.