I knew going to see the Shakespeare Theatre Company's production of the class O'Neill play Strange Interlude was going to be a big event.
But...I was astonished to see the sign EVENT parking on display at the parking garage next to the theater which meant of course, a $25 fee versus the normal $10 or $15 fee. Well, Strange Interlude was not in fact the EVENT the garage was alluding to. It was Bruce Springsteen performing across the street at the Verizon Center! But, in retrospect, it could have been.
This behemoth of a play (it is nine acts and runs normally over five hours) has been meticulously reduced by the STC's Artistic Director Michael Kahn to a mere 3 hour, 45 minute production. In its orignal incantation, the show would start around 5 p.m., have a dinner break, and then continue. Here, there in fact, two intermissions. Director Kahn as assembled a superb cast and the work goes along so smoothly, I didn't once check my watch. I was enjoying every single minute of this masterpiece.
According to Kahn, he spent the past year and a half carefully editing the piece and in the program mentions that he hoped that O'Neill would have no objections.
It is indeed a play that centers around Nina Leeds played by the incomparable Francesca Faridany who ages very well covering about 25 years from 1919 until 1944, from World War I and World War II. You feel badly for Nina who loses her first love in the War but makes up for it by tending to injured soldiers returning from battle and makes no excuses for pleasing them and her herself. She is quite the young woman! Can you see now why it was banned in Boston?
Another reason concerns how Nina conceives her child. It is not by her husband (played by the wonderful TEd Koch, but her doctor, Ned (the handsome Baylen Thomas) who at first refuses the ruse but succombs to the sensuous and beautiful Nina.
And then there is the character of CharLes Marsden (played by Robert Stanton). Marsden you realize is infatuated with Nina from the beginning but Nina looks upon him as an uncle. But Marsden patiently follows Nina through all her tribulations and is rewarded as they both approach old age.
Adding to these wonderful performers are veterans Tana Kicken (Mrs. Evans) and STC Affiliated Artist Ted Van Griethuysen as Nina's father, Professor Henry Leeds.
Strange Interlude is famous for the use of "asides" when actors stop the action from moving forward and explain to the audience what they are thinking and feeling. Is sometimes difficult to distinguish these asides. I kept wondering if there should have been hints to the audience, like changing the lighting so we would be sure it's an aside. But I believe part of the enjoyment and wonder of the play is figuring out when there is an aside in the first place.
Set designer Walt Spangler has designed a space that easily transitions over time while Projection Designer Aaron Rhyne cleverly uses images that reflect the time and place of the proceedings. It's heartbrekaing to watch the explosion of an airplane while Nina thinks of her dying fiance. There are delightful costumes by Jane Greenwood, clever lighting by Stephen Strawbridge and Sound Design by Fitz Patton who also composed the music which enhances the experience.
This EVENT must close April 29, 2012. I do hope you get a chance to experience this riveting production.
For tickets, call 202-547-1122 or visit www.shakespearetheatre.org.
For a quick bite before the show, "Fuel" has just opened next to the theater for an inexpensive pizza or chicken wings. You will need fuel for this play, trust me.