Regional Reviews: San Francisco
Michael Weller's What the Night Is For is an Unflinching, Honest Love Story
Also see Richard's review of The Sweetest Swing In Baseball
What the Night Is For had its premiere in the West End of London at the Comedy Theatre during the winter of 2002 with Gillian Anderson of The X Files making her London Theatre debut along with popular British actor Roger Allam. The reviews were mixed. The United States premiere occurred at the Laguna Playhouse last spring with Claudia Christian and Kip Gilman playing the roles. Joel Hirschhorn of Daily Variety hit the nail on the head when he said it was Same Time Next Year meets The Snake Pit. Mr. Weller told me this is one play you either love or hate, but I'm in the middle.
What the Night Is For's two-hour, two-act story starts slowly, adding surprises along the way. The drama takes place over just one night in one bedroom of a hotel. Melinda (Lois Grandi) has made arrangements for a night of romance with Adam (Marvin Greene) in what appears to be an upscale, Midwest hotel room with portable bar. She arranges champagne and food to start the evening. The couple had a brief affair in New York ten years prior, when she was poet and he a new wave architect. The affair broke off when she traveled back to the Midwest to marry the son of a successful bicycle manufacturer. In the meantime, Adam has married a careerist wife whom he rarely sees since she travels quite a bit. He is a major architect who likes to play around on the Internet. Both appear to be unhappy with their marriages, as we discover.
As luck would have it, a nice project has comes up for the builder about 200 miles away from Melinda. Needless to say, communication occurs though the Internet and we have the play. One gets the idea that David Hare's Skylight was an inspiration and that Weller wanted some kind of ferociously emotional counteraction between the two characters.
Melinda changes before your very eyes, from coquettish to a neurotic mess. Lois Grandi, the Artistic Director of Playhouse West, takes center stage to play the role of this strange and fascinating woman. The actress does an emotional striptease with unusual skill in peeling off the character's protective layers. Marvin Green (many appearances at Berkeley Rep, Aurora and Marin Shakespeare Company) is excellent as Adam. He gives a cool and smooth performance as the counterpart to Grandi's Joan Crawford or Bette Davis in several of the latter scenes. (That's a compliment, believe me).
Ray Reinhardt (one of the Bay Area's best known actors) directs a needle-sharp production. He is able to focus on the couple's mixture of attack and evasion as the play progresses. Doug Ham has designed a nice hotel set that looks more like an Embassy Suite set rather then a trendy hotel. Costume designs (uncredited) are nice, including a sheer silk slip for Lois.
What the Night is For runs through February 19th at the Knights 3 Theatre located in the Dean Lesher Regional Center for the Arts, Civic Street, Walnut Creek, Ca. For tickets call 915-943-SHOW (7469) or visit www.playhousewest.org.