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Regional Reviews by Fred Sokol

The Circle
Westport Country Playhouse

Also see Fred's review of Race

The Circle
Marsha Mason and Gretchen Hall
While The Circle, at Westport Country Playhouse through June 25th, has a familiar feel, the script and quite alive quality of the current production demonstrate that the play, set in the late 1920s in England, is actually brisk, witty, and relevant.

W. Somerset Maugham, probably known better for his novels, features two love triangles and various intersections. Lady Catherine Champion-Cheney, played by Marsha Mason, is better known as Kitty. She left her husband Clive (Paxton Whitehead) three decades ago when she was evidently quite beautiful for Lord Porteous (John Horton). Porteous, then in Parliament, probably tossed away his political career. Lady Kitty also abandoned her five year old son, Arnold.

Arnold (Marc Vietor), now an adult who is quite fastidious about tables and chairs since he collects furniture, is married to quite attractive Elizabeth (Gretchen Hall). Arnold is awaiting the arrival of his mother when the play opens. A house guest named Edward Luton (referred to as Teddie and played by Bryce Pinkham) is visiting. Elizabeth and Teddie enter after a bit of tennis at the outset. Before long, Clive, too, arrives at the handsome home. Theme and action begin to spin when Teddie and Elizabeth cannot deny that they are mutually smitten. Ah, the parallelisms! Each moment of the story transpires within the locale where Kitty and Clive first lived. Now, Arnold and Elizabeth reside in the Dorset house. (Christina Rouner as Mrs. Shenstone and James Joseph O'Neil as George, The Butler round out the cast).

Each object and its exact placement, as designed by Alexander Dodge and then facilitated, is perfect. The hues of white and baby blue paint on the walls are exquisite. The ceilings are high, and the upstage doors lead to what promises to be a lush garden. Two vases on the white fireplace mantel are pristine. All of the furnishings and placements are period precise.

Maugham's play is, on one level, quite amusing and diverting. On another, the playwright addresses romance, love, aging, and the differences between appearance and reality. Kitty, who is pained when she sees a photograph of her former youthful self, will offer worldly advice to Elizabeth. Lord Porteous is generally in a foul mood and is a complainer. More than once, he is troubled by his ill-fitting dentures. Clive is somewhat carefree, clever, smoothly articulate ... and willing to admit that he has chased many a woman in her early twenties. Arnold is stiff, conventional, and, for much of the time, lacking in warmth. Teddie is passionate, direct, and unswerving. Elizabeth's character is multi-dimensional and she is not quite certain of herself. She has choices but whom will she follow?

Nicholas Martin directs this fine collection of seasoned performers, some of whom are more easily recalled than others. Marsha Mason is probably best known for films like The Goodbye Girl, Cinderella Liberty and Chapter Two. Veteran actors Whitehead and Horton have long lists of theater and film credits. The younger generation which includes Hall, Pinkham, and Vietor have appeared in New York and on many regional stages. This is a very strong and adept ensemble.

Westport's rendering is quite polished and that includes costuming by Gabriel Berry. Her specific and suitable suits and dresses enhance the show, providing appropriate tone and feel.

The Circle is vigorous and crisp. One might have anticipated a somewhat tired drawing room comedy of manners but this presentation, instead, is immediately engaging. Inviting and thoughtful, it reflects positively upon W. Somerset Maugham.

The Circle continues at Westport Country Playhouse through June 25th. For tickets, call (203) 227-4177 or visit www.WestportPlayhouse.org.


Photo: T. Charles Erickson


Also see the current theatre schedule for Connecticut & Beyond

- Fred Sokol



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