Saturday, January 25, 2014
My theatergoing year got off to a very promising start with Roundabout Theatre's dazzling revival of Sophie Treadwell's expressionistic 1928 play. Helen (Rebecca Hall), a woman in her 20s who lives with and supports her unloving widowed mother (Suzanne Bertish), suffers from what used to be called neurasthenia, a kind of mental exhaustion brought on by the stresses of the impersonal, mechanistic, modern urban world. The stylized opening scene, set in the office where Helen works as a stenographer, brilliantly captures the relentless monotony and banality of the workplace. After Helen's older self-absorbed boss (Michael Cumpsty) takes a shine to her, she reluctantly marries him even though she cringes at his touch. When she visits a speakeasy with a friend, she meets a sexy young man (Morgan Spector) and begins an affair. Her powerful attraction to her lover makes her loveless marriage seem ever more intolerable. Complications ensue. Supporting the four excellent leads, 14 actors deftly handle multiple roles. A great deal of the success of the play is owed to its outstanding production design -- Es Devlin's set of beige geometrically etched panels mounted on a large turntable seems to bring us to a new location each time it revolves. It functions almost like one of the characters. When the set turns between scenes, we get fleeting vignettes choreographed by Sam Pinkleton which Jane Cox has dramatically lit by moving horizontal bands of light. The excellent sound design by Matt Tierney underscores the emotions onstage. Michael Krass has costumed the supporting cast in appropriately bleak monochromes. Director Lyndsey Turner has skillfully blended all these elements with brilliant results. Bravo to Roundabout for bringing us this rare treat. Running time: 95 minutes, no intermission.