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Shakespeare Theatre Company Strange Interlude

By • Apr 4th, 2012 • Category: Reviews
Strange Interlude
Shakespeare Theatre Company
Sidney Harman Hall, Washington DC
Through April 29th
3:45 with two intermissions
$25-$105
Reviewed April 1st, 2012

Contrary to the playwright’s general reputation for gloom, Shakespeare Theater Company’s production of Eugene O’Neill’s Strange Interlude is remarkably humorous. The humor often derives from the pain his characters feel as they grope through their lives, deceiving others and themselves, hell-bent for happiness that eludes them. But the funny moments do come, often as the result of the contrast between what a character is thinking — and expressing to the audience in an aside — and what he or she is saying to someone else.

The asides are the trademark of this play, as O’Neill voices the thoughts of his characters on the fly, in the midst of their lives. Under Michael Kahn’s direction, the asides and the lines delivered to other characters flow seamlessly, leaving no ambiguity about when a character is talking to others and when the audience is hearing the character’s thoughts, as if by telepathy. All the actors have mastered the feel and cadences of O’Neill’s highly theatrical language, and the performance would be convincing even in an audio version.

In keeping with the modernist roots of the play, Walt Spangler’s set is a tall, spare, white half-rectangle, onto which is projected a series of home movie-like motion pictures leading to the subsequent scene. Different, subtle shades of color illuminate the white walls in various scenes. Usually there are only a few set dressing pieces on the stage, leaving substantial room for the actors to be deployed. Kahn often places his actors at some distance from one another, even in two- or three-character scenes, creating arresting stage pictures while underlining the emotional distance between characters.

O’Neill’s lengthy script (even when cut by Kahn to a relatively svelte 3+ hours) gives his characters plenty of time to develop and change over the 30-year span of the play. The central character, Nina Leeds, pursuer of happiness in chief, tries one tactic after another to reach her goal: engagement to a college sports hero who is killed in World War I, giving herself sexually to wounded veterans, marriage to a nice but unimaginative aspiring businessman, having a baby, having a lover, hanging desperately onto her child even as he prepares to live his own life. Nothing quite works. As portrayed by Francesca Faridany, who voices the role in a way reminiscent of Katherine Hepburn, she deceives and manipulates everyone around her to achieve her objectives. She is brilliant at keeping secrets and hiding truths. Faridany’s Nina is a compelling, powerful woman, but not a particularly likable or admirable one, especially in the penultimate scene where she tries to break up her son’s relationship with his fiancée.

In orbit around Nina are her three men: her husband, Sam (Ted Koch); her lover, Ned (Baylen Thomas); and her older, effete, prissy friend Charles (Robert Stanton). All three love her in their own ways. None can escape her gravitational pull, though Ned keeps trying, leaving the country for years at a time but always being inexorably pulled back. The unreflective Sam, though despairing at times concerning Nina’s indifference toward him, derives considerable satisfaction from his success in business and as a father. The all-too-reflective Charles, acutely aware of his own limitations and the fact that Nina regards him as a friend/father figure, not someone who would be central to her life, copes with his pain through drink and wit. All three actors deliver wonderfully detailed, nuanced characterizations.

Given the time span covered by the action, the characters must age considerably in the course of the evening. They do so very convincingly, thanks in part to excellent make-up and hair work and in part to thoroughly believable changes in physicality and tone on the actors’ part.

At the end of the day, most of the people in Nina’s life are gone. Sam has died, Ned has said his last goodbye, her son has flown off with his wife. Nina and Charles (who knew her as a young girl and remains steadfast to her in his old age), having surrendered at last the dream of happiness, resolve to be simply peaceful, resting together. They speak ruefully of being close at the beginning and the ending, with the middle being the “strange interlude” of the play’s title. The sad irony, of course, is that this interlude encompassed the whole of their adult lives, leaving little behind but exhaustion.

Photo Gallery

Robert Stanton as Charles Marsden and Francesca Faridany as Nina Leeds Francesca Faridany as Nina Leeds and Ted Koch as Sam Evans
Robert Stanton as Charles Marsden and Francesca Faridany as Nina Leeds
Francesca Faridany as Nina Leeds and Ted Koch as Sam Evans
Baylen Thomas as Ned Darrell and Francesca Faridany as Nina Leeds
Baylen Thomas as Ned Darrell and Francesca Faridany as Nina Leeds

Photos by Scott Suchman

Cast

  • Charles Marsden: Robert Stanton
  • Professor Henry Leeds: Ted van Griethuysen
  • Nina Leeds, his daughter: Francesca Faridany
  • Sam Evans: Ted Koch
  • Edmund (Ned) Darrell: Baylen Thomas
  • Mrs. Amos Evans, Sam’s mother: Tana Hicken
  • Gordon Evans as a boy: Jake Land
  • Madeline Arnold: Rachel Spencer Hewitt
  • Gordon Evans as a young man: Joe Short

Production Staff

  • Director: Michael Kahn
  • Set Designer: Walt Spangler
  • Costume Designer: Jane Greenwood
  • Lighting Designer: Stephen Strawbridge
  • Composer and Sound Designer: Fitz Patton
  • Projection Designer: Aaron Rhyne
  • Wig and Hair Designer: Tom Watson
  • Casting: Laura Stanczyk
  • Resident Casting Director: Daniel Neville-Rehbehn
  • Literary Associate: Drew Lichtenberg
  • Assistant Director: Jenny Lord
  • Directorial Observer/Sir John Gielgud Fellow: Elyzabeth Gorman
  • Associate Costume Designer: Daniel Urlie
  • Production Stage Manager: Joseph Smelser
  • Assistant Stage Manager: Benjamin Royer

Disclaimer: Shakespeare Theatre Company provided two complimentary media tickets to ShowBizRadio for this review.

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has been an active participant in the Washington-area community theater scene since his arrival in town in 1975.

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