Directed by Lin Snider and Justin Bennett
Out of the Box Theatre Company
West End Theater , 263 West 86th Street, NYC
October 2-5, 2013 (Closed)
If you know of stage play more perfectly realized than Out of the Box Theatre's polished realization of Terence Rattigan's Separate Tables, let me know and I will rush to see it. However, that is unlikely, as co-directors Lin Snider and Justin Bennett have created a profound rarity indeed: a flawless production. Everything about this rendering of Rattigan's play, which opened in London in 1954 and on Broadway in 1956, is sheer perfection: every performance, the set, the costumes, the invisible effortless direction, the brief musical interludes -- all make for one of the most exhilarating evenings of theater I have ever experienced. It is unfortunate that such a fine production was limited to only six performances: a production of this outstanding caliber deserved a much longer run, or even transfer to a Broadway theater.
Terence Rattigan, most remembered for the film versions of his plays The Winslow Boy and The Browning Version, created Separate Tables as two interconnected one-act plays set in the early '50s at the shabby but genteel Beauregard Private Hotel in the English resort town of Bournemouth. In England, such hotels were often the residences for pensioners and others who found themselves in "reduced circumstances."The first of the two plays Table by the Window takes place in winter and introduces us to the main set of residents of the hotel owned by the Miss Cooper, a seemingly aloof and efficient proprietress (Anna Marie Sell); Mrs. Railton-Bell (SuEllen Estey), a snobbish proper matron who has an absent daughter, Sibyl; Lady Matheson (Colleen Kennedy) is an upper crust though now impoverished dithery widow of a civil servant; Miss Meacham (Stephanie Barton-Farcas), a doughty outspoken spinster and spiritualist whose main interest is a close study the daily racing form; and Mr. Fowler (Roger Rifkin), a mild-manner retired public school master (waiting in vain for visits from his former students). Adding some youthful energy to the mix is Charles Stratton (Sean David Johnson), a young medical student and his girlfriend Jean Tanner (Jenelle Sosa) -- staying in individual rooms, of course. John Malcolm (Len Rella), another permanent resident, is a pugnacious radical journalist with a drinking problem as well as being a disgraced former member of Parliament who served time for assaulting his former wife, an aging American fashion model, Anne Shankland (Renee Stork). The residents are served by Mabel (Susan Case) and Doreen (Elaine Ivy Harris), who while clearing the tables after the residents have left the dinner room, sing several nostalgic songs of the era, ably accompanied on the upright piano by Kathy Kirk.
Malcolm who is having an affair with Miss Cooper, is shocked when Anne unexpectedly shows up on the rebound from her second divorce. Anne is seeking to reignite her romance with Malcolm. Thus, the sparks do fly, both loudly and softly.
The second play of the evening, Table Number 7, takes place in the summer, about ten months after the conclusion of Table by the Window. The young couple, Charles and Jean, are now married with a baby at hand. Anne is absent, and two new characters are added to the mix: Mrs. Railton-Bell's mousy, neurotic and painfully shy daughter, Sibyl (Meghan E. Jones); and Major Pollack (James Hartner), a blustering retired army Major of allegedly high education, brimming with stories of his brave and dangerous military exploits. The Major has committed a serious indiscretion, which brought him before the local magistrate, and was newsworthy enough to make it in the local paper. Mrs. Railton-Bell, gets wind of it and, as an upholder of Christian morals, takes it upon herself to rally the residents to compel Miss Cooper to send the Major away. Sibyl who adores the Major is distraught. The residents opine and argue about it all and the ensuing brouhaha comes to a surprisingly lovely and poignant conclusion.
Rattigan's wonderfully written play was given the most royal of treatments by this company of artists. I have rarely attended an opening night performance where all of the actors were so totally poised, prepared, and at ease. Co-directors Lin Snider and Justin Bennett set the standard with beautifully paced and fluid direction. It would be a disservice to such fine actors to point to any of their performances as standout: there were all standout. The large and sweeping set, designed by Sean Donovan who was assisted by Nathanial Shafier, was gorgeous, constantly engaging -- and beautifully lit by Paul Jones. Maureen Eadie's costuming could not better have set the tone and style of the 1950s, from Anne Shankland’s elegance to Miss Meacham highly accessorized doughtiness.
I wish this outstanding production of Separate Tables was extended beyond its brief run so I could have shared this outstanding production with a host of other theatergoers, but I take solace in looking forward to the next offering from Out of the Box Theatre Company. - Jay Reisberg
Photo: Sally Sherwood
Mr. Reisberg is a UCLA film school grad, professional singer, comedian, and bon vivant at large.