On the Stage
Written by Peter Nichols
Directed by Shawn Hainsworth
At Leverett House Old Library
PASSION IS A contemporary play which reflects the breakdown of traditional social values like religion and fidelity in marriage. Even the set for the Leverett House Arts Society play--the audience sits on either side of the almost threadbare space where all the action takes place--lends an air of modernity to the play.
But despite Passion's avant-garde aura, which also relies heavily on the prominence of psychological doubles of the play's two central characters, there's really not a whole lot that's new in Peter Nichols' script. By the time you leave Leverett's Old Library, you'll realize that gimmicks aside, you've seen most of Passion in other places--on TV, in movies, and in other plays.
THE PROBLEM WITH Passion is not that anything about the Leverett House production is especially bad--many of the performances and parts of the direction are really very good--but rather that the play itself has neither the insight nor the levity to overcome its trite subject matter.
The script centers on a married couple, James (Ron Schachter) and Eleanor (Kristen Gasser)--a painting preserver undergoing a mid-life crisis and a part-time music teacher approaching menopause. James and Eleanor's children have all left home, creating a void in the couple's life. Bored, James allows the former lover of his dead friend Albert, a chic young woman named Kate (Nan Dunham), to seduce him into his first-ever extra-marital liaison.
Though James says he does not want a serious affair with Kate, he soon becomes dependent on her. James' relationship with Kate leads him to question himself and his marriage, and the answers to his questions eventually destroy the couple's union--in substance if not in form. Immediately after the beginning of the hesitantly-started affair, the play turns into a mess of tangled emotions and motives.
BOTH ENHANCING AND confusing the plot are Eleanor and James' psychological doubles. It's difficult to further describe these quasispirits, and one of the play's main faults is that you never know exactly what the doppelgangers are meant to represent. The doubles sometimes play actual physical parts in the play--for instance, when James' double (Kerry Osborne) speaks to Kate on the telephone--but most of the time James and Eleanor neither see nor hear their spiritual analogues.
The spirits, who eventually speak dialogues with each other, form a play within a play in the second act. The doubles' dialogues often coincide with those of James and Eleanor, and sometimes with great dramatic effect. In one very powerful episode, the two couples' simultaneous quarrels end with both the spiritual and physical pairs yelling the same thing. Unfortunately, when the couples have concurrent dialogues, more often than not, the resulting polyphony is somewhat bewildering. Even so, it is the doubles, not the actual James and Eleanor, who figure in the play's really spinechilling exchanges.
Osborne, James' double, lets the audience into James' thoughts in the most gripping way. Dressed in devilish red, he skillfully highlights the tensions between the subconscious James and the real one. Eleanor's double (Marilynn Richtarik) is the play's other standout. She devotes herself fully to her role elucidating Eleanor's fragile inner workings, and the sheer force of her performance sets her apart from the other players. Gasser's performance as Eleanor and Kim Shaw's portrayal of Agnes, the former wife of the dead Albert, are also very good. But not even superhuman acting could save Nichols' gimmicky and cliched script.