This is perhaps the most ambitious production I’ve seen at Theatre 40 in Beverly Hills in the almost two and a half years that I’ve been reviewing plays there. And they pulled it off beautifully.
Separate Tables is a British play from 1954. The setting is a residential hotel by the sea. But here’s what I didn’t know about this show going in, that I wish I had: Separate Tables is actually the title of a duo of one-act plays that are set in the same hotel, and share some of the same characters. But the two stories take place a year-and-a-half apart, and feature different main characters. The principal man and woman from each act were written to be played by the same actor and actress, which they chose not to do in this production. I’m glad of that decision in this case, because the second act would have been even more confusing than it already was. This is important info that I feel should be made clear in the program, so that audiences understand just what they are seeing. But now you all are aware of it, which will help if you follow my advice to see the show. [Note: When Separate Tables was made into a film in 1958, I believe both stories were concurrent, rather than eighteen months apart, so all roles were played by separate actors, as they are in this production.]
But, that tiny bit of bother aside, this show is a really good ride. All of the elements—set, costumes, wigs, appointments, accents, music— make it really feel like an old movie, which is special for a theatre to be able to create.
I’m always a fan of Jeff G. Rack’s sets, but he absolutely outdid himself on this one. The opening night audience actually gasped when the set revolved right at the outset of the action, to reveal the glorious dining room of the hotel. The room itself is so appealing that I wanted to jump right on up there and join the diners!
The casting is perfect, as well. Each actor or actress fit his or her role to a tee. The work of the entire cast is excellent. They are all so good, in fact, that it’s hard for me to choose a favorite. But two women really stood out for me. Diana Angelina, as the woman who runs the hotel, is spot-on in her kindness. I could really feel her pain, even though her character masks it well. And Roslyn Cohn just broke my heart. I must admit that I welled-up a time or two, witnessing what her spinster-esque mama’s girl was going through. I actually saw those two as only their characters, and didn’t even try to imagine anything else about them, as I often do when I’m watching a play.
And I must laud them all for their excellent English accents (which, trust me, is far from the case in most British plays I see in this country!). This is amusing: Adrian Neil, who plays John Malcolm in the first act, asked to sit with my friend and me at the after-party. We said yes without looking up, and when we did, and saw that he was the handsome actor from the play, I actually wondered why he was continuing the accent. (But he was doing a much classier British one this time.) And then it hit me, and I let-out a surprised, “Oh, you really are English!” So, understandably, Adrian gets fewer kudos in the accent department than the rest of the cast.
There’s only one thing wrong with this entire production of Separate Tables—it’s a tad too long. I don’t know if theatre companies are allowed to cut classic plays, but there are at least a good twenty minutes that I feel are unnecessary. One bit that should be the first to go is the old-time political talk in Act I. It made my mind wander, and, from talking to other opening night audience members, it produced the same effect on them. We just need the love story in the first act, with the difficulties that entails, and not the superfluous dialogue.
But when the only fault I can find with a play is the length, you know it’s a worthwhile endeavor. So have some bangers and mash, and a cuppa tea, and head on over to Theatre 40 to see Separate Tables. And don’t forget to bring your hankies!