Dated? Most definitely. Terence Rattigan’s Separate Tables is about 1950s morality as it was experienced in Great Britain. Things have changed over 60 years; let’s hope first and foremost that women are treated more humanely by men, and secondly, one’s social class – does it even exist today? – is much less a priority. On another level, it’s fascinating to witness the desperate loneliness that existed – and still may – among both young and older couples, particularly when they’re encumbered with one addiction or another. That’s Rattigan’s Separate Tables with two completely different lead couples in each act who try to uncover or rediscover the meaning of love. With expert direction from Jules Aaron and a superb ensemble of players, Theatre 40’s Separate Tables is quite a handsome and emotionally charged production.
Many remember the successful 1958 film starring Burt Lancaster, Rita Hayworth, Deborah Kerr and David Niven. However, the film’s protagonists were not as well served as in the play. Many characters’ lines were swapped without rhyme or reason in the screenplay, and the action went back and forth between the stories throughout the two hours instead of each story standing on its own as in each act of the play.
Time and place? It’s 1958, and we’re thrust into the Beauregard Hotel in Bournemouth, England where several permanent hotel guests and employees surround the leading players in the dining room and lounge. Act One sees alcoholic Mr. Malcolm (Adrian Neil), a once successful Labour party candidate, currently a writer for an ill-reputed rag paper, in love with Miss Cooper (Diana Angelina), who manages the hotel. When his first wife, Ann Shankland an aging drug-addicted model (Susan Priver) shows up, Miss Cooper, caring and thoughtful, gives in and allows Shankland to woo him successfully. Act Two, 18 months later presents a phony Major Pollack (David Hunt Stafford) who, as we quickly learn, has been accused of sexually enticing young ladies at a local theatre. Sybil Railton-Bell (Roslyn Cohn), a shy and withdrawn young lady, falls for him and is devastated when she learns of his indiscretions. Her mother Mrs. Railton-Bell (Mona Lee Wylde), a dictatorial and hateful woman, tries to prevent any liaison between them. Once again Cooper intervenes and like cupid, helps the romance grow fonder. Other supporting roles are Mrs. Railton-Bell’s friend Lady Mathison (Mariko Van Kampen); loud, opinionated and odd Miss Meacham (Michele Schultz); an aging loner MR. Fowler (John Wallace Combs), and a younger couple Mr. and Mrs. Stratton (Caleb Slavens and Melissa Collins), who welcome a child in Act Two. He is a medical student, has his own intelligent perspective, and the overall happiness of their marital arrangement is negligible. There is also a cheeky waitress Doreen (Suzan Solomon) who knows all of the residents’ habits to the core.
Under Aaron’s detailed direction, the dynamic cast are all equally outstanding. Neil makes a very effective Malcolm with his spot-on physicality in the drunken scenes; Cohn as Sybil is absolutely astounding. With her long, pitiful glances straight forward, she makes us feel her utterly deep isolation. Another standout is Angelina as Miss Cooper. We see from the onset how very much she cares for all of her charges. She is like a teacher or nurturing second mother, who, in spite of her own concerns, cares more about others than for herself. Refreshing… and a lovely performance! Schultz is delightful as Miss Meacham, never missing a comedic beat in her cynical appraisal of everyone and everything. Wylde is wonderful as the despicably snobbish Mrs. Railton-Bell, and Solomon delicious as the know-it-all Doreen. Jeff G. Rack’s elegant set design on a turntable stage is most appealing as are Michele Young’s period costumes.
Despite its cold and predictable atmosphere and somewhat stuffy speeches, Separate Tables does dig deeply into the emotional psyche of certain people, especially the ladies. It’s fun entertainment as long as you realize you are viewing a distant portrait. As for Theatre 40, this is another feather in their uber attractive cap.