As part of his 25th season as artistic director of Washington's Shakespeare Theatre Company, Michael Kahn has staged Strange Interlude on the broad stage of Sidney Harman Hall. Through the efforts of a hard-working cast and a visionary design team, the work (pared down to three and three-quarter hours) is involving and highly dramatic.
The play is a psychological portrait of a woman, Nina Leeds (Francesca Faridany), and the men who love her. Walt Spangler's stark set has an artificial, diorama quality: very high white walls containing doors that dwarf the people who walk through them, a plain gray ceiling, and a vacant floor, with isolated pieces of furniture appearing from beneath the stage. This blankness allows Stephen Strawbridge's lighting design to set the emotional tone by washing the walls with color (even to the point of showing the grime of years and neglect) and provides a neutral canvas for Aaron Rhyne's scene-setting projections.
Kahn and Rhyne start the action by bringing the audience inside Nina's head: she imagines the death of her fiancÚ, Gordon Shaw, when his airplane was shot down in the last days of World War I. Nina's father, Professor Henry Leeds (Ted van Griethuysen), and family friend Charles Marsden (Robert Stanton) worry about Nina's moodiness, her sense of guilt in Gordon's death and need to sacrifice herself.
Over the years, Nina becomes a nurse in a soldiers' convalescent home; marries comfortable Sam Evans (Ted Koch), whose unassuming charm hardens into arrogance as he gains money and success; and relies on Dr. Ned Darrell (Baylen Thomas) for help with a decision she can't share with anyone else. By the end, Nina watches the cycle close as her son (Jake Land as a boy, Joe Short as a young man) moves beyond her to love Madeline Arnold (Rachel Spencer Hewitt).
Much of O'Neill's plot has a feverish, lurid cast. Nina lives for love and passion, but she doesn't always pursue them in the healthiest ways; her story begins with a desire to be happy, but ultimately she settles for peace with a person who makes no demands on her. (The grave is a very peaceful place, after all.)
Faridany, with her assertive mannerisms and bold red hair, rises to the challenge of portraying the contradictions and fascinations of Nina. Stanton shows how Marsden is a prisoner of his fears and inhibitions, while Koch convincingly traces Sam's growth from worry and stress to confidence. Tana Hicken glows with emotion in her one scene as Sam's mother.
Shakespeare Theatre Company