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This review by Joan Crespi was published
in U.S. 1 Newspaper on February 11, 1998. All rights reserved.
Review: `The Circle’
The Circle," one of the jewels of English drama,
by W. Somerset Maugham, is playing in a fine production at Hopewell’s
Off-Broadstreet Theater until February 28. Maugham — for the
set — is one of the greatest novelists of the century. Best known
for his novel "Of Human Bondage," he was also an outstanding
and much produced playwright.
Written in 1920 and first produced in 1921, "The Circle" is
an elegant comedy of manners. Maugham lampoons individual characters
and high society. Of the cast of seven characters, three have
last names. This is the formal-dress-for dinner class, and the setting
is Arnold Champion-Cheney’s house in Dorset, England. Both clues to
And comedy this is. Maugham’s wit is funny, incisive, and reveals
character. It brought out-loud laughter from the audience on the night
I saw the play. This is a well-made play, with the action confined
to a single set and a 24-hour period (Aristotle’s unities). And the
play is about love. With Maugham’s barbed wit, his clean, economical,
skilled plotting, and a perennial subject, the play is certain to
Bob Thick — Off-Broadstreet’s co-producer (with his wife Julie),
director, and designer — has dressed a set with the period pieces
suitable for a decorating taste: wrought gilt picture frames, a
screen, open flower wall sconces, even an old gramophone.
All of the roles are acted by off-Broadstreet veterans, and all range
from good to excellent. Thick moves his actors through the range of
emotions, from shouting to gentleness, and nearly all have impeccable
comic timing and do justice to Maugham’s English language. Arnold
Champion-Cheney, a starchy, precise prig of 35, devoted to antique
chairs and his seat in Parliament, is convincingly played by Jim
Doug Kline does an equally good job as the cynical, good-humored,
gently malicious, aging satyr, Clive Champion-Cheney, who arrives
unexpectedly from Paris. Laura Jackson ably plays the bit part of
Mrs. Shenstone, although her costume seems to come from another
Wendy Yazujian is the beauteous, young, shapely
she acts with grace, restraint, and dignity, while showing a full
component of emotions. Wife to the passionless Arnold ("You can’t
expect a man to go on making love to his wife after three years"),
Elizabeth has romantic imaginings about Arnold’s mother, Lady Kitty,
who deserted her son and husband 30 years ago to run off with Lord
Porteous. Elizabeth has invited Lady Kitty and Porteous, recently
returned from Italy, down to her home so that mother and son can
reacquainted, she says. To make up the party she’s invited Mrs.
and the self-proclaimed practical, unromantic businessman, Edward
"Teddie" Luton, played by Jeff Maschi.
Briefly back from the Federated Malay States, Teddie soon declares
his love for Elizabeth. It’s hard to see why — except for her
marriage to prissy Arnold and a life that bores her — Elizabeth
falls so "desperately in love" with this Teddie. By the third
act, though, Maschi has warmed to the part.
But the play doesn’t take fire until the gruff, blunt, curmudgeon
Lord Porteous, ably played by Brendan Mulvey, walks on stage beside
the marvelous June Connerton, playing the once-beautiful and gay Lady
Catherine C-C become an old, chattering, painted, frivolous woman:
"her soul is as thickly painted as her face." (They’d exiled
themselves to Italy since Porteous’ wife wouldn’t divorce him.) Though
this Lady Kitty is not as rouged, as ravaged by age and a trivial
life, as she should be for marked contrast with Elizabeth (who says,
despite her make-up, that she never uses lipstick), Connerton, waving
her tulle-cuffed hands, delivers great lines with faultless timing.
Her range of emotion is delightful. Her squabbles with Porteous are
telling. Her attempting to charm Clive again is an amusing plot twist.
And her trenchant advice — from bitter experience — to
on marriage, on love and consequences, is as revealing today as 77
So are Lord Porteous’ serious summary remarks: "No one can learn
by the experience of another because no circumstances are quite the
With one or two exceptions, the play is as timely today as it was
in 1920. Back then Britain still had its empire. It’s hilarious to
hear these British arguing over whether Porteous, now become Prime
Minister, would have given his then-secretary, Clive, with his
Kitty, Western Australia, Barbados, or India.
In the second dated passage, Lady Kitty delivers a dire feminist
as a warning to young Elizabeth: "Woman will only be the equal
of man when she earns her living." Women today, if not yet equal,
are indeed working. Yet audience attitudes change. The first audiences
were shocked by the ending and booed Elizabeth’s choice of action.
In one way the play is unexpectedly timely. With the nation focused
on a sex scandal and its potentially ruinous effect on a politician’s
career, here’s another mix of sex scandal and politics. In this the
play comes full circle. Finally, note that Off-Broadstreet serves
up both a play and dessert. A perennial rave for the desserts.
— Joan Crespi
Avenue, Hopewell, 609-466-2766. $18.50 & $20. To Saturday, February
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