Monday, 22 March 2010


17/3/10, Donmar

2 hrs 15 mns. A rare dud from the Donmar. Well-acted, intelligently directed, but in the end an awkward mixture of too much talk with a sudden and brutal ending. Oh, and the characters are deeply unsympathetic.

Suburban Chicago, c 1970. A suburban living room, furnished in the latest style, which doubles as the (clearly identical) living room of two affluent couples. One is a lawyer, Carl (or was it Alex?), driven, stressed out, unable any longer to talk to his wife; she sits at home all day longing for a child or goes out shopping; the other, Alex (or was it Carl?) is an alcoholic property developer whose wife (Geraldine Somerville, v good) is having an affair with one of Alex/Carl's nerdish colleagues.

The boys were at college together and spend some time reminiscing. There are oblique references to Vietnam, to long-haired trouble-makers, to drugs (which the lawyer seems readily able to score) etc etc. All the characters seem overwhelmed by suburban ennui and bitterness (even the driven lawyer), about which they talk a lot. A great deal of drinking goes on and a lot of smoking. At one point towards the end the lawyer, having packed his wife off to bed, takes a pipe out of a drawer and puffs on it.

It emerges that the lawyer has been mooning around (almost certainly not actually having an affair) with a 17 year old. And at the end the property developer shoots his wife, his daughter and himself (off stage). Charles Spencer in his Telegraph review of Eigengrau called the eye-gouging scene towards the end "dramatically unearned", and I know what he meant: this shooting, too, was dramatically unearned.

S say it was a cross between Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf and Alan Ayckbourn without the jokes.

But Somerville was excellent as a world-weary cynic, contemptuous of her husband and with a nice line in put-downs (none of which I can now remember); and the A-line mini-dresses were lovely.

Jason O'Mara, who played the alcoholic, was in the US version of Life on Mars; Jason Butler Harner too is a gen-you-wine American, so at least the accents were authentic.

Written by Lanford Wilson, a much-admired American playwright of the late 20th century whose work we have never seen before and which, on this showing, has not aged well.

The title remains a complete mystery. Who was Louie? Who was serenading him? And how? Or with what? And why? Who knows? Who cares?

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