Following their superb 2014 revival of Terence Rattigan’s WWII-era Flare Path, Theatre 40 returns to Rattigan territory with a less successful Separate Tables, the mid-twentieth-century English playwright’s pair of one-acts whose second half crosses the line from period piece to uncomfortably dated.
The tables in question are those occupied by guests of the Beauregard Private Hotel, a seaside establishment run by Miss Cooper (Diana Angelina) with the aid of Cockney maid Doreen (Suzan Soloman).
These include Mrs. Railton-Bell (Mona Lee Wilde), a pretentious old biddy with a 30something daughter momentarily away on a family visit; civil servant’s widow Lady Mathison (Mariko van Kampen), less grand than Mrs. Railton-Bell but always impeccably “dressed for dinner;” retired public school master Mr. Fowler (John Wallace Combs), yet again disappointed that a grown-up former pupil has failed to show up for a visit; the resolutely single Miss Meacham (Michele Schultz), who could give Miss Marple a run for her tweed; and pretend-married lovers Charles (Caleb Slavens) and Jean (Melissa Collins), the latter two occupying the dining room’s only table-not-for-one.
Last but not least is disgraced politician John (Adrian Neil), soon to be paid a visit by his glamorous ex Anne (Susan Priver), who just might be ready at last to forgive and forget the night hubby exchanged both marriage and political career for six months in the slammer on charges of assaulting both a police officer and his wife.
Act Two fast forwards eighteen months with John and Anne long gone and frumpy spinster Sybil (Roslyn Cohn) once again sharing digs with Mrs. Railton-Bell while striking up a friendship with retired army officer Major Pollock (David Hunt Stafford) much to Mummy’s dismay, particularly when it comes out that the major was recently arrested for “insulting behavior.”
The unbecoming conduct in question turns out to have been a bit of unsolicited heterosexual nudging at the local cinema, inspiring hotel guest reactions from dismay to disgust to Charles’s “the Major presumably understands my form of lovemaking. I should therefore understand his,” a remark that would come across rather less curious had Major Pollack been written, per Rattigan’s wishes, as a closeted gay man at a time when even consenting adults could be sent to prison for “gross indecency.”
The unfortunate byproduct of this era-imposed “straightening” is a second act that rings false by asking its characters (and a contemporary audience) to accept sexual harassment as an alternative “form of lovemaking.”
Under Jules Aaron’s direction, Neil’s dashing but dissolute John and Priver’s glamorous redheaded Anne make for a charismatic pair of exes, and Stafford and Cohn have their powerful moments as a sexually repressed pair of societal misfits.
Still, having characters played ten to twenty years older than written proves an uncomfortable fit, and the decision not to cast a single pair of actors as both pairs of leads (as in the West End/Broadway originals) robs Theatre 40’s revival what must have been one of Separate Table’s biggest draws.
Schultz’s deliciously tweedy, progressive-thinking Miss Meachum stands out among an overall fine supporting cast, as does Van Kampen’s take-no-prisoners Mummie Dearest, though in some cases a dialect coach might have been in order.
Michèle Young has designed one elegant ‘50s outfit after another, with special snaps for the va-va-voomy dress in which Anne makes her first entrance accompanied by sound designer Paolo Greco’s inspired cinematic musical underscoring. Jeff G. Rack’s revolving scenic design is one of his most ingenious ever and lit with considerable flair by J. Kent Inasy. Only Judi Lewin’s fake-looking ‘50s wigs and non-period hair for women wearing their own earn minuses this time round.
Separate Tables is produced by Stafford. Jordan Hoxsie is assistant director. Don Solosan is stage manager and Richard Carner is assistant stage manager.
Light Up The Sky, The Voisey Inheritance, The Little Foxes, and just about anything by Agatha Christie. There’s probably no L.A. theater company more adept at period pieces than Theatre 40. A dated play and some less-than-ideal casting choices make Separate Tables the disappointing exception.