Culver City News: SEPARATE TABLES is “masterful”

THEATRE 40 in Beverly Hills produces masterful drawing room plays, and their current production of SEPARATE TABLES by Sir Terence Rattigan, and brilliantly directed by Jules Aaron, fits the bill to a tee. Better known in his native England than in the U.S., Rattigan was considered one of the 20th Century’s most important English playwrights, with “Separate Tables” considered one of his most accessible and entertaining works. The play centers on stories of loneliness and redemption set in the late 1950s, during which time society’s morals, along with the generations, were changing.

The Tony Award-nominated play is actually a compilation of two short plays sharing some of the same characters and locations, a dining room and lounge in a residential hotel in Bournemouth, England.

In the first act, Table by the Window, John Malcolm (Adrian Neil who captures every emotion necessary to make this tormented character come to life), an alcoholic left-wing writer, loves Miss Cooper (hard-working Diana Angelina), the female manager of the hotel. Their world is rocked when the man’s ex-wife, Ann Shankland (Susan Priver), a glamorous model dreading the approach of her middle age, checks into the hotel. The model has her ex in her sights due to her extreme loneliness and lack of enough funds to live the life she wishes she could. But which woman will finally win his heart and share her individual dining room table with him?

In the second act, Table Number Seven, an ex-Army man calling himself Major Pollack (David Hunt Stafford who also produces the play for Theatre 40) enjoys the company of a lonely spinster, Sybil Railton-Bell (Roslyn Cohn, looking rather plain for the role), since they have things in common: being afraid of life and of other people in particular. When the woman’s manipulative, domineering mother who loves to spread gossip (Mona Lee Wylde) exposes the man’s hidden sins, will she succeed in driving the soldier and the spinster apart? And how will the other residents in the hotel react to the news, which is sure to challenge their long-held proper and very British moral standards? Will the Major ever find the redemption he seeks to allow Sybil to love him?

I have seen several of the Theatre 40 productions directed by Jules Aaron including the West Coast Premiere of The Consul, the Tramp and America’s Sweetheart, A Shred of Evidence, Rod Serling’s Patterns, The Gamester and Blonde Poison. He obviously understands how to best use the space to take advantage of the audience seated on three sides of the stage, and knows how to guide his “Separate Tables’” cast (Diana Angelina, Roz Cohn, Melissa Collins, John Combs, Adrian Neal, Susan Priver, Michelle Schultz, Suzan Soloman, Caleb Slavens, David Hunt Stafford, Mariko Van Kampen and Mona Lee Wilde) to fully understand and present their characters beautifully with British accents at a level where every word is understood. The only drawback to the play is that it is all words and little action, which many may find a bit lackluster.

Technical credits are excellent as always with Jeff G. Rack outdoing himself with a high-class revolving set which transitions between the two rooms in the hotel, lighting design by Kent Inasy which focuses attention exactly where director Aaron knows it will work best, and time-appropriate, high-class costumes, right down to many mink stoles and glamorous dresses thanks to Theatre 40’s resident costume designer Michèle Young. The stage management team of Don Solosan and Richard Carner are to be commended for paying close attention to detail including preparing many versions of both edible and non-edible meals needed in so many scenes. Original music by Max Kinberg perfectly reflects the mood each time it is used.