Sunday, October 3, 2010

Brief Encounter

The special effects are amazing in Brief Encounter, so much so that they overwhelm Noël Coward's story about two married people who meet by chance in a train station tea room in 1940s England, fall in love and part nobly at the end.

Director Emma Rice has a real three ring circus going one in this 90-minute show. I was most fascinated by the black and white film projections into which the stage characters step and become part of that world. I loved the Coward songs ("Mad About the Boy," "A Room With a View," "Go Slow, Johnny," "Any Little Fish"), which secondary characters move away from the action to sing, at times in the aisles. Unfortunately, they also perform a lot of silly comic routines that get tedious. In the midst of all this the romance takes on what seems like a minor character role. It was hard to feel emotionally connected to the lovers, Hannah Yelland and Tristan Sturrock, with all those distractions. (The script is an adaptation of Coward's screenplay (for the 1945 movie by the same name) and his one-act play Still Life.)

My friend Mary shared this reaction, but we are probably in the minority. Earlier productions -- this is the Broadway premiere -- have been hits with critics and the public. It originated in England, then moved to St. Ann's Warehouse last season before touring the United States. Even my cynical friend Carolyn loved it when she saw it in Brooklyn, and Carolyn rarely likes anything. I wish I could have shared the enthusiasm. I had expected to, especially after reading all the buzz on Facebook. I wanted to care more about Laura and Alec, but they were overshadowed.

The Roundabout Theatre Company’s production of Brief Encounter continues at Studio 54 through Dec. 5. Tickets are available at (212) 719-1300, online at or at the box office, 254 W. 54th St.

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