Saturday, September 25, 2010

Brief Encounter ***

Like the current The 39 Steps, Emma Rice's Brief Encounter is a cleverly deconstructed take on a classic British film. Interestingly the film itself was an adaptation by Coward of his play Still Life, so what we are watching is a play based on a film based on a play. Unlike The 39 Steps which reduces the film to its essentials and relies on the audience's imagination to carry it along, Brief Encounter opens up the film with songs (by Noel Coward, of course), projections, puppets, amusing props and even a bit of vaudeville. It won Rice the Olivier Award for best director. After an acclaimed limited run at St. Ann's Warehouse late last year, it is now back in New York as a Roundabout production at Studio 54. Most of the dialogue is taken verbatim from Coward's screenplay, but there are liberties such as an added character to provide a love interest for the young waitress. Some scenes have been truncated to make room for the interpolations and the ending has been tweaked a bit to be more optimistic. The actors' accents are plummy, but not overripe. They effortlessly navigate the shoals between twee and camp without running aground. At 90 minutes, it does not wear out its welcome.

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