by: Sandi Durell
Life upon the wicked stage . . . Was there trouble in paradise postulates playwright Jeffrey Hatcher in The Peccadillo Theater Company witty production “Ten Chimneys,” currently ensconced at the Theatre at St. Clement’s.
The beloved summer home Ten Chimneys in Genessee Depot, Wisconsin, is the setting for Lynn Fontanne and Alfred Lunt, America’s greatest acting couple, in this wry comedy of a play within a play, the famous couple portraying scenes from Chekhov’s “The Seagull,” the play they are rehearsing during the summer of 1937. The entire family summers with them, including Alfred’s pool-hall gambling brother Carl (John Wernke), his sister Louise (Charlotte Booker), who is more like the caretaker, and his meddling mother Hattie (Lucy Martin) who thinks of herself as a former actress who once played the role ofNina, the young ingénue in “The Seagull.” Hattie and Lynn spend their time together throwing verbal darts at each other.
It’s obvious to see the unmatched love, passion and deep relationship of the Lunts as they go about their business of daily living which includes receiving other great performers like Sydney Greenstreet (whom they call G-string, played by Michael McCarty) and the young starlet-to-be, Uta Hagen (Julia Bray) who arrives to actually play the role ofNina.
This clever, charming throwback in time is filled with banter, nit-picking and speculation. Alfred Lunt is played by Bryon Jennings who is inordinately attached to his Mother and exudes all the charisma of the great man who also has a lifelong secret revealed at the end of the play. Lynn Fontanne is played by Carolyn McCormick who embodies the regal, sinewy actress. Together they make up the great couple whose life onstage was as real as off making the line “the Hunts’ rehearsal obsession is their real life” a truism. Jennings and McCormick are deliciously charismatic and epitomize “it’s all about me.”
When a young Uta Hagen arrives, Lynn is furious as she sees the potential spark that may have lit between her and Alfred. Sister Louise is filled with her own desperation as she blows her stack in a two plate special. The family is filled with complications keeping good old dysfunction alive and well. Brother Carl turns out to be a clever one. Julia Bray comes into her own later in the play and shows more depth, passion and understanding of her character.
The outside patio of the studio turns into the interior of the house in Act II, a clever conception by scenic and lighting designer Harry Feiner. Costumes by Sam Fleming bringing the 30s/40s time period to life as director Dan Wackerman massages the actors through this historical era with witty abandon making this an enjoyable Noel Coward-esque comedy.
Photo: Carol Rosegg