“Brief Encounter", Unique, Stirring Multimedia Experience
At the Theatre with Audrey Linden
The Kneehigh Theatre production of Noel Coward’s “Brief Encounter” opened February 19th at the Bram Goldsmith Theater in Beverly Hills new Wallis Annenberg Center for the Arts. This play is based on Noel Cowards’ play, ”Still Life” and his 1945 screenplay directed by David Lean. Emma Rice adapted and directed this production, which blended the silver screen with its black and white film, and the action of the play. The ensemble cast seamlessly slipped into romantic celluloid film footage, into the set and also interacted with the audience. It was an amazing production, and I am still in awe of the sheer elegance and originality of this undertaking. It is one of the finest pieces of theater I have seen.
This tremendously talented cast is reprising their roles from the original Broadway show, with the exception of Jim Sturgeon, who did the role of Alec in the Kneehigh production in Australia. The unique British multimedia production recreates the romance and passion of a chance encounter between two people at a tea room train station. The chance encounter between the proper suburban, married housewife, Laura (Hannah Yelland) and Dr. Alec (Jim Sturgeon),who also is married began when Laura got dust in her eye, and the gallant doctor removed the speck. One encounter leads to another and the two become passionately involved in a series of Thursday meetings. The push and pull of their steamy relationship echoed the coming and going of their trains at the station. There was an eroticism to the images interspersed between the meetings.
As the play opened, with the ushers dressed in the uniforms of 1938, Laura is saying goodbye to Alec. We open with the end. The black and white film plays on the screen, and Laura slips into the projected images and joins her predictable, crossword puzzle solving husband, Fred. We then get the fascinating backstory. The passion and quiet desperation of the lovers is offset by the humor of the ensemble players, who echo the affair with their own romantic dalliances. The ample bosomed and bottomed Myrtle (Annette Mc Laughlin) is being courted by Albert (Joe Alessi). Her sidekick, Beryl (Dorothy Atkinson) falls in love with curly haired Stanley (Damon Daunno). The two couples mirror the illicit love affair, but they are free to lust and love. Laura struggles with being madly and wildly in love and with being proper and responsible.
There is fabulous black and white footage of crashing waves at Cornwall and of an erotic swimmer as Laura mimics the action onstage, seemingly lost in love. The lovers are drowning in this doomed relationship which is spinning out of control. They vacillate between seductiveness and sensibility.
The ensemble cast provided a humorous break. I loved the vignette in which two old biddies, walking their proper little pooches, chanced to come upon Laura and Alec. Both Mc Laughlin and Atkinson give smashingly funny performances as these meddlesome old dames. They provided such a delightful respite. The very talented Atkinson also gave a fun characterization as a dour waitress and also as an upscale society dame in a simply "mahvelous" feathered hat. Each of her characters was so different and so well defined. Such fun!
Alessi also played the role of the predictable staid Fred and the judgmental Steven, who catches Alec in flagrant e, and he did a remarkable job in his portrayals. The ensemble cast along with musicians played "Oh You Beautiful Doll", "I Can't Give You Anything But Love" to set the mood in the beginning and memorable Noel Coward musical selections in the play: “Mad About the Boy”, "Any Little Fish", and a hauntingly beautiful, "Room With A View"hauntingly crooned by Damon Daunno as Stanley. The music climaxed when Laura played the piano with the crescendo of the haunting Rachmaninoff Concerto #2.
This was a brilliant piece of performance art, a multimedia production in which the actors moved seamlessly in and out of film and into scenes. There also was the very imaginative use of puppets as Laura’s children, which worked beautifully. I was truly swept up in the romance and in the comedy and absolutely agog! It was a glorious piece of theater at its finest. I really have not seen anything like it. It was inventive, and yet remained true to the period and the genre. Sometimes,the use of multimedia can detract, but in this well directed production, the use blended well and added as did the sets and period piece costumes by Neil Murray.
I have to give a few words to the venue as I am a Beverly Hills resident and grew up with the Beverly Hills Post Office. The newly renovated Post Office is now the home of the handsome Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts. They kept the integrity of the original Post Office and have the Bram Goldsmith Theater and the smaller Lovelace Theater, an outdoor patio, and will have a café in the future.
“Brief Encounter” runs through March 23rd . The Wallis Annenberg Center is located at 9390 N. Santa Monica Blvd. Beverly Hills, 90210. Parking is under the Center for $8.00. For tickets and show times, call 310-746-4000, or go on line to www.thewallis.org
Audrey Linden is a writer, actress and singer. She can be seen in a long-running “Associated Tax Resolution” commercial, two “Little Caesars” spots, a “Teva International Pharmaceutical” short, Gene Simmons’ “Family Jewels,” “America’s Court with Judge Ross,” VHS “Tough Love 2,” “Wendy’s” etc.
Audrey teaches ON CAMERA COMMERCIAL and IMPROV COMEDY WORKSHOPS through the City of Beverly Hills. To register, call 310-285-6850. Her classes are held at 241 Moreno Dr. B.H. 90212. Her next classes start in March/April with registration in February. For more information, contact Audrey at firstname.lastname@example.org