Wolf Entertainment Guide
October, 25 2004
There were only five chairs on stage plus three musicians in the background on the side. In a matter of moments an illusion was created that we were near an airbase in wartime England with life and relationships hanging in the balance as RAF crews await their missions and their women hope for safe return. What’s remarkable is that so much atmosphere and tension emanated from a reading rather than a full production. This theater magic was achieved in the opening presentation (Oct. 16, 17, 18, 2004) of its new season by The Actors Company Theatre (TACT) with its reading revival of Terence Rattigan’s 1942 “Flare Path,” his early play that became a hit in London and had a short run on Broadway.
TACT is well known by now for its expert retrieval of past works that have fallen into relative obscurity and merit fresh attention, a sort of celebration of plays past. “Flare Path” is very early Rattigan, best known for such works as “The Winslow Boy,” “The Browning Version” and “Separate Tables.” He also had a considerable reputation as a screenwriter.
What’s quite surprising about “Flare Path” is that despite all the keep-your-chin-up war film clichés that we have seen in films, Rattigan’s drama retains power to move us. It even speaks across the years against the background of the misbegotten war in Iraq and the specter of young men currently facing the possibility of death every day. Part of the realism suggested is due to the emphasis on getting the period right. On a trip to England Director Simon Jones managed to locate and borrow RAF jackets and bring them back for the production.
The real truth, of course, must come from the performances, and the company, as usual, was up to the task. Jones kept them speaking to the audience rather than to each other in this particular reading style. It was a rare moment when one performer took another’s hand to make direct contact, the effect all the greater for it. The approach worked admirably.
Kathleen Doyle was especially moving as the barmaid who has become Countess Skriczevinsky by virtue of her marriage to a Polish count in the RAF, played with convincing ethnicity by Graeme Malcolm. Jack Koenig played Peter Kyle, a Hollywood star who has his own mission to accomplish, a romantic one, and Koenig has the good looks and dashing manor to be believable. Darrie Lawrence was superb as the no-nonsense landlady, Mrs. Oakes.
In fact, bringing the work so vividly to life was an achievement due to the excellence of the entire cast, the others being Scott Schafer, Mary Bacon, Geoffrey Malloy, Jamie Bennett, Margaret Nichols and James Prendergast.
Regrettably, as is usually the case, these readings are only offered in a few performances. But take heart, more such events are booked during the season: Max Frisch’s “The Firebugs” (Nov. 20-22), Harold Brighouse’s “Zack” (Jan.. 22-24), David Storey’s “Home” (March 12-14) and Karel Capek’s “R.U.R.” (April 30-May 2). As was the case with “Flare Path,” they are scheduled at Florence Gould Hall, 55 East 59th Street. For information: 212-645-8228, or www.TACTnyc.org.