“The Circle” - Spinning Yarn at Westport Country Playhouse
By Marlene S. Gaylinn
W. Somerset Maugham, a prolific, English writer became famous in the United States for “Of Human Bondage” and “The Razor’s Edge," novels that were made into popular films. It’s interesting to learn that Maugham began his career as a playwright and that through this medium he became a master at writing dialogue. Written in the 1920’s “The Circle,” currently at Westport Country Playhouse, is a typical, English, comedy of manners that takes place in an elegant drawing room. And speaking of crafty dialogue, the play contains a lot of clever talk. If one has the patience to sort out who belongs to whom and why everyone is heatedly confronting one another, you just might enjoy the aristocratic humor British folk find so funny.
Way ahead of its time, the play pokes fun of marriage and fidelity -- this sacred union that is supposed to hold society together but in reality, is often ignored. In the light of current scandals among politicians, one can hardly say that this subject matter is outdated - just the manner in which it is being presented.
It appears that eccentric, Lady Catherine (Marsha Mason) left her husband, Clive (Paxton Whitehead) and young son to run off with Lord Porteous (John Horton). Her son, Arnold (Marc Vietor), now an adult with marital problems of his own, is resentful because he doesn’t even know his scandalous mother and is about to forcibly meet her. Arnold’s wayward wife, Elizabeth (Gretchen Hall), arranged for his parents’ reunion but in the meantime, she has developed eyes for a houseguest (Bryce Pinkham). Things come to a head when the protagonists encounter each other at the family home that Arnold has inherited. The chatter that ensues resembles the web and flow of the tides. And, as destiny spins its circle, the players come to mutual understandings and then go their own ways.
Under the direction of Nicholas Martin, the exuberant Martha Mason livens up things as she plays opposite the solid, Paxton Whitehead and well-seasoned John Horton. The supporting cast members are typical, English caricatures.
It can be said that the architectural elements of an elegant, English drawing room, by Alexander Dodge (he also designed “The Archbishop’s Ceiling” for the Playhouse) actually outshines the play. Folks were coming up to admire the details and touch the tile flooring during intermission. One can’t help wondering what will become of the set when it’s dismantled.
Plays through: June 25, Tickets: WestportPlayhouse.org/203-227-4177
This review appears in “On Connecticut Theatre”/June 2011