“The Circle” (Westport Country Playhouse)

By Susan Granger

Written by W. Somerset Maugham and set at an aristocratic estate in Dorset, England, in the 1920s, “The Circle” is a delightful drawing-room comedy of manners. Arnold Champion-Chesney (Mark Vietor) is a prim, uptight, ambitious member of Parliament, devoted to collecting antique furniture. Elizabeth (Gretchen Hall), his charming young wife of three years, is given to romantic notions. That’s why she’s invited Arnold’s estranged mother, Lady Catherine (Marsha Mason), to join them in the country for the weekend., hoping that they can become acquainted and regain some semblance of family.

Thirty years ago –when Arnold was only five – Lady Catherine impetuously left Arnold’s father, Lord Clive (Paxton Whitehead) to run off to Italy to become the mistress of Lord Hugh Porteous (John Horton), and they’ve been living in exile ever since. Arnold has never forgiven her and he’s distressed  about the upcoming weekend, particularly when his father (Paxton Whitehead) unexpectedly arrives from Paris, just prior to the appearance of his mother and her longtime lover.  There are two additional houseguests:  athletic Edward ‘Teddy’ Luton (Bruce Pinkham), who manages a rubber plantation in the Federated Malay States, and amiable Mrs. Shenstone (Christina Rouner), who excels in bridge.

Under discussion is the topic of infidelity and its destructive aftermath, particularly when it comes to living with the unforeseen consequences of one’s indiscretions.

While Maugham wrote this many years ago, his witty, satiric, insightful observations about the status of women and their choices in life resonate today, particularly in affluent suburbia, where some women still define themselves as ‘wife of’ although they certainly have more financial flexibility  So, under the deft direction of Nicolas Martin, this dated comedy emerges as fresh and funny.

While Paxton Whitehead, Marsha Mason and John Horton exude an effortless elegance, the younger members of the cast are given to posturing, obviously finding it difficult to relax while uttering the mannered language and moving about scenic designer Alexander Dodge’s luxurious set. And the women seem cursed by costumer Gabriel Berry’s unattractive and unflattering wardrobe choices.

“The Circle” plays at the Westport Country Playhouse through Saturday, June 25. For more information and tickets, call 203-227-4177 or go to www.WestportPlayhouse.org

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