If you ask me…

- Tom Holehan

“THE CIRCLE” AT WESTPORT PLAYHOUSE

 

The Neil Simon perennial, “Barefoot in the Park” and Somerset Maugham’s period comedy, “The Circle” share nothing in common except for the weekend I saw them.  The Ivoryton and Westport Country Playhouses are now firmly into summer theatre mode.  You could do worse.

“The Circle”, currently on stage in Westport, is a rarely produced Maugham work from the 1920s that focuses on the fall-out that has occurred thirty years since Lady Catherine (a blowzy Marsha Mason) left her husband, Clive (Paxton Whitehead) and young son, Edward (Bryce Pinkham).  Catherine departed with Clive’s good friend, Lord Porteous (John Horton) and, as “The Circle” begins, a now-grown and married Edward is dreading his mother’s arrival.   Edward’s wife, Elizabeth (Gretchen Hall), has urged Catherine to visit for reasons that soon become clear.  The stage is then set for a peerless drawing room comedy of manners with sophisticated writing that still resonates today.

Under Nicholas Martin’s breezy direction, “The Circle” is good enough to make you wish it were a little better.  Some of the acting is top-drawer while others seem to have trouble keeping up.  Ms. Mason, a fine comic actress, never truly convinces as a woman driven by illusion and her British accent is fleeting. Whitehead and Horton, however, rarely hit a false note.  Their humor is as dry as a three olive martini with comic delivery that is pitch-perfect.  Pinkham and Hall convince as the young marrieds suddenly questioning their lives but the always-welcome Christina Rouner is sadly wasted in a throw-away role early in the play.  Alexander Dodge’s elegant Georgian architecture proves a pristine setting for the play and Gabriel Berry’s costuming is right on target.  The comedy may lag here and there but is mostly on the money.

“The Circle” continues at the Westport Country Playhouse through June 25.  For further information or ticket reservations call the theatre box office at: 203.227.4177 or visit: www.westportplayhouse.org.

Tom Holehan is Co-chairman of the Connecticut Critics Circle and Artistic Director of Stratford’s Square One Theatre Company.  He welcomes comments at: tholehan@yahoo.com.  His reviews and other theatre information can be found on the Connecticut Critics Circle website: www.ctcritics.org.

 

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