A Review by Deirdre Donovan
Runs through December 1, 2016
Teaser: The British actress Rachel Weisz tackles the plum role in David Hare’s play about British post-war disillusion, now in revival at the Public Theater.
British actress Rachel Weisz is in the catbird seat in David Hare’s Plenty, his 1978 celebrated play about post-war disillusion. Although the current revival, directed by David Leveaux, lacks sizzle, Weisz playing Susan Traherne saves the show from being a total wash-out.
If you need a refresher on the plot, it tells the story of former British secret agent Susan Traherne who worked behind the lines in occupied France in her late teens and later finds that life in Peacetime Britain can be suffocatingly dull. Bored and depressed, she damages her diplomat husband’s career by drinking, creating outlandish scenes, and having breakdowns.
Doze off—and you may well lose a key chunk of this complex story. The heroine’s tale is told in 12 vignettes that scramble time, geography, and lives. Although Plenty is sometimes confusing to follow, the payoff for watching the whole drama is that you get a lens into how one woman’s war memories haunted her life and kept her from having healthy relationships. In a program note, Hare comments that “over 75% of female agents in the Special Operations Executives unit” became divorced in the decades following the war. A sad statement indeed—and one that his play amplifies and probes at length.
In Leveaux’ outing, anchored by Mike Britton’s minimalist set with a revolving stage, the play has a polished look and feel. On the surface, it couldn’t look smarter. What is lacking from this production, however, is a strong sense of urgency. Leveaux’ manicured production has a great deal of fluidity but could use more spit and fire. That what-next quality that is at the heart of this enigmatic work needs to be heightened more.
Happily, Weisz (The Constant Gardener) doesn’t disappoint as Susan. Weisz inhabits the protagonist with the requisite mix of glamour and ennui. Another fine performance is turned in by Corey Stoll as her foreign service husband Brock. True, Stoll never makes his character entirely sympathetic but he does make him credible as the vapid diplomat turned insurance man.
Kudos to Jennings too. He’s well-cast as the ironically-named Darwin, an old school diplomat who has staunch opinions about everything under the sun. His Darwin might not be always right but, by Jove, he will be heard. The rest of the cast? They’re competent but no real standouts.
The creative team add all the necessary trimmings. Beyond Britton’s spare set, David Weiner’s lighting is muted with clean spotlighting of principals at pivotal moments. Jess Goldstein’s costumes range from mufti to haute couture, with Susan’s wardrobe often looking like it was plucked from the designer’s racks at Bergdorf’s.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the glowing history of Plenty. Its premiere in 1978 at London’s National Theatre theater with Kate Nelligan brought immediate praise from the critics, and its later mounting at the Public Theater in 1982 and on Broadway in 1983 (both with Kate Nelligan), added more laurels. More recently, Plenty was revived at London’s Albery Theatre with the incomparable Cate Blanchett. And that’s not counting the 1985 film adaptation with the legendary Meryl Streep, which brought Hare’s play to an even broader audience.
In one of the many vignettes of Plenty, the heroine fires a gun Hedda-Gabler-like at Mick (LeRoy McClain), the would-be father of her child. No question it’s a hair-raising moment that reveals Susan’s mental deterioration and her utter lack of self-control. True, there are other scenes that can make you catch your breath. But nothing compares with this bone-chiller.
Although this production is flawed, Leveaux deserves plenty of credit for taking Plenty out of the library and putting it back on the boards. It’s been 34 years since this work has been staged in New York. Why not go see this boundary-pushing play while it’s still in town?
Through December 1st.
At the Newman Theater at the Public Theater, 425 Lafayette Street, Astor Place.
For tickets and more information, phone 212.967.7555 or visit www.publictheater.org
Running time: 2 hours; 30 minutes with one intermission.