Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

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Ou, l'amour puni

May 11, 2009

[L-R] Robertson Dean (The Count), Susan Angelo (The Countess), Lenne Klingaman (Lucile)
Photo: Craig Schwartz/ANW 2009

A particularly strong spring season comes to a close in the next few weeks at A Noise Within in Glendale. Having opened quite good productions of The Taming of the Shrew and Ibsen’s Ghosts, the company closes the season with the veritable icing on the cake, Jean Anouilh’s The Rehearsal. Probably more telling, though, is the play's second title, Love Punished. While Anouilh’s works are no stranger to these shores, they’re not the most commonly produced plays and when one comes along of this quality, it’s really a must see. (In fact none of his works have seen a Broadway stage in nearly a decade.) A mid-century French master, Anouilh was interested in characters burdened with a purity of idealism in a world that is more oriented toward the functional and practical. The idealists don’t tend to do well in these collisions. however, the plays are often populated with more than a little humor.

The Rehearsal is set in a country manor in post-WWII France where an aristocratic couple is rehearsing an 18th-century play to be performed as an entertainment at their upcoming ball. Amongst the other members of the cast for this play within a play are the lovers of both the count and countess, an old childhood friend of the count’s, the countess’ lawyer and his young ward. The count finds himself in peril of violating the ground rules of his very open relationship with his wife by falling in love with this much younger daughter of an employee. When they do, all hell breaks loose. But this is the 1950s and this is before the kind of cynicism that might populate such a story on a modern screen. Instead, there’s a lot of psychoanalytic babble and plenty of sharp wit. There is also an unusual sense of disorientation in that the characters remain in period costumes for the whole play despite the mid-20th century setting of the larger work. They are always getting ready or just finishing rehearsing. Further complicating things is that the events of the “inner” play closely mirror the events of the “outer” one. And while this may seem like a worn conceit to a more modern audience, I found it worked rather well in this context in that it is not a point discussed ad nauseum by the characters themselves.

At the center of a very good cast is ANW regular Roberson Dean as the Count who appears every inch the refined married man about to plunge off the cliff of his own desire. His young paramour is played by Lenne Klingaman with a bracing and direct honesty that again belies all the work that went into this performance from the whole company. Even company director Geoff Elliott turns in a rather restrained turn as Hero, the count's friend who goes from comic relief to center stage over a handful of hours. And while it doesn't end in a big hug, The Rehearsal is just the kind of play to make you wonder why you don't go to the theater more often. It's onstage through May 24.

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