Terence Rattigan is maybe the greatest playwright you’ve never heard of. A 20th century dramatist, the very British Rattigan scripted 1946’s “The Winslow Boy,” 1948’s “The Browning Version” and 1952’s “The Deep Blue Sea.” But he’s probably best known for the 1958 big screen version of his 1954 stage play, “Separate Tables,” which starred Rita Hayworth, Debora Kerr, David Niven and Burt Lancaster.
Now “Separate Tables” is receiving a laudable staging at Beverly Hills’ Theatre 40, through June 18. Attentively directed by Jules Aaron, “Separate Tables” is actually two separate one-acts plays, which even have different titles; the first one is called “Table by the Window.” The second scenario is titled “Table Number Seven.”
What connects the two scripts is the locale – the Beauregard Hotel in Bournemouth, England. And while the two dramas share some of the same characters, such as Miss Cooper, the Beauregard’s manager (an appropriately inviting Diana Angelina), the plot lines of the one-acts are distinct and independent.
The first entry, “Table by the Window,” involves a politically radical writer named John Malcolm (an intense and intensely Cockney Adrian Neil) who’s in love with Miss Cooper (Angelina). But their future is threatened when John’s former spouse and ex-model, Anne Shankland (an emotionally compelling Susan Priver), registers as a guest at the Beauregard and has some desperate encounters with John.
In the second scenario, “Table Number Seven,” Major Pollack, an erstwhile officer in Her Majesty’s Royal Army (a subtle and detailed portrayal delivered by David Hunt Stafford), has a fondness for a sheltered 30-something Sybil (a convincing Roslyn Cohn), who lives her life under the rule of her domineering mother, Maude Railton-Bell (a chilling Mona Lee Wylde). When Maude uncovers the deceits and misdeeds of the Major, vulnerabilities are exposed and an interpersonal crisis ensues.
With its usual top quality production values – Jeff G. Rack’s set design is a marvelous tribute to mid-century sensibilities as are Michele Young’s period-perfect costumes and Judi Lewin’s wig and hair designs — Theatre 40’s “Separate Tables,” at two hours and forty five minutes running time (with one intermission), is a prism through which we are able to examine and question the values from yesteryear and, by proxy, the mores of our current age.
In addition to the players previously mentioned, able support is provided by John Wallace Combs as Mr. Fowler; Melissa Collins and Caleb Slavens as Jean and Charles Stratton; Michele Shultz as Miss Meacham; and the delightful Suzan Solomon as the mouthy food server, Doreen.
For theatergoers looking for a flashback experience that aligns the circumstances of then with the emotionality of now, Terence Rattigan’s “Separate Tables” provides an artistic journey that joins us to the past.