Actors Theatre Of San Francisco Dangerously Updates J. B. Priestly Melodrama Dangerous Corner
Also see Richard's review of Guys and Dolls
The Actors Theatre of San Francisco, which generally presents good cutting edge plays, reaches into its theatrical bag to present the old fashioned 1932 British thriller, J.B. Priestly’s Dangerous Corner. The melodrama has been updated to present day San Francisco where a group of twenty-something publishers have achieved professional success while their spiritual development lags far behind. The play has become a speedy 100 minute no intermission melodrama with very little suspense and a great amount of bitchy bantering.
J.B. Priestly plays are an acquired taste, and they are frequently performed by veteran older sophisticated actors. Also, the plays are very British. There is usually an element of a Christie-style theme in his plays. I have witnessed several productions of this highly urbane drama in the U.K., and the straightlaced speech pattern works well with veteran British actors. The Matrix Theater in Los Angeles did a superb production featuring top flight film character actors several years ago. They wisely kept the play in the early ’30s in Britain with the actors having good British sophisticated accents.
The American premier of Dangerous Corner occurred on October 27, 1932 at the old Empire Theatre in New York. Stanley Ridges, who later became one of Hollywood’s best character actors, had an important role in the original production. The play ran for 206 performances and was revived the following year at the Waldorf Theatre where it ran for an additional 90 performances. London’s West End recently saw a revival of Dangerous Corner at the Garrick Theatre with an all star British television cast; the play was set in present day London. Most of the critics gave it negative reviews and stated it did not work well with modern settings.
Dangerous Corner is a sort of murder play that is founded upon a theory about time and chance. This version takes place at Robert and Freda Caplan’s (Christian Haines and MiMi Alain) dinner party. A gunshot at the beginning of the play provides a microcosm of time about the suicide of Robert Caplan’s brother Martin. "Was it suicide or was it murder?" is the theme. The seven characters in the play were very close to Martin, and his death has affected them without them quite knowing how, until this very moment in time gives them the opportunity. The exposition involves a missing $50,000 from the company, the bisexuality of the deceased and a mysterious music box/cigarette holder that plays “Unchained Melody.” The characters are unworthy of sympathy; they are remote, pitiless, obstinate and even glaringly stupid for persons who are supposed to be intelligent.
Director Bill English has hit upon the idea of giving this play a contemporary setting. The dialogue is full of clichés and artificial, overly melodramatic speeches that do not ring true to these modern day movers and shakers. The confessions which occupy most of the play provoke disbelief. The admissions are spoken so rapidly that the drama loses most of the subtlety of the playwright's point of the drama. The modern American accents make the characters sound more preposterous and unreal than if they were left in their own period, the thirties. There is a twist ending that I won’t reveal.
This production does have some good acting, particularly Lauren English as Olwen and MiMi Alain as Freda. Both have a good handle on their roles and show excellent acting skills. And Christian Haines, a member of the Actors Theatre, is very good in the role of Martin’s brother and instigator of the truth behind the brother's death. Haines is able to handle the various emotions as the truth the death comes out. The rest of the cast does what it can with an arthritic dialogue.
Dangerous Corner runs through August 30th at the Actors Theatre of San Francisco, 533 Sutter Street, San Francisco. For reservations go to www.ticketweb.com or call box office at 415-296-9179. More information at www.actorstheatre.com.
The ATSF opens its 2003-2004 seasons on September 19 with the West Coast premiere of David Rabe’s acclaimed dark comedy The Dog Problem.