Sunday, June 17, 2007

Intimate Exchanges - Affairs in a Tent - June 16, 2007

Sir Alan Ayckbourn has been writing plays for a very long time. It stands to reason that an artist wants to try a little something new, a little innovation, every now and then. He certainly pulled it off brilliantly with The Norman Conquests and now Intimate Exchanges attempts a very similar gimmick, with a far broader scope.

While The Norman Conquests is actually three separate plays that all take place at the same time, Intimate Exchanges raises the bar. This is actually part of a sequence of plays (8 in all, with 16 different endings all going in different directions). This sounds overwhelming, and it could be: if you think about it too long. But in fact I saw only one in the sequence and I can see where it could go and how this 'sequence' could all play out. This does not mean you need to see all the configurations to enjoy it. Affairs in a Tent was a complete piece in its own right and I imagine the same holds true for all the others.

The people with the hardest jobs here are the actors: there are only two. They play all the parts in all the plays. In Affairs in a Tent they do an amazingly good job, this is not a simple matter of switching out a wig and a costume - all the characters are well-defined individuals. Bill Champion and Claudia Elmhirst are to be commended. Keeping all the characters, and all the scripts straight and crisp is a herculean task and they both rise to the challenge and excel. Claudia Elmhirst is particularly effective here - I had to strain to see that this was the same actress playing headmaster's wife, Celia, and hired help, Sylvie. Bill Champion's first appearance wearing a blond wig, as Lionel, a ne'er-do-well with good intentions, bears an uncannily resembles Michael McKean's David St. Hubbins in This Is Spinal Tap. This is just one layer of humor in addition to his wonderful, spot on delivery. He lands every line. These are two actors who do justice to comedy and it was a pleasure to watch them.

photo credit: Tony Bartholomew

While I found the play very funny, I thought as farce it might work better with more actors playing the parts to keep things moving. I noticed people in the audience straining to see the appearance of the 'next' character whenever one of the actors exited (which might mean a costume/character change) and that is a distraction that takes away from the piece. There is also a problem with extended set changes. Very near the end of this play there is a scene change that takes well over 3 minutes and that is a very long time to hold up the action, particularly so close to the end as things have risen to a fever pitch. It destroys the momentum and left me feeling disengaged from the final scene. Certainly this is a minor criticism in such a major work, but it seems an extra pair of hands helping with the change would solve this issue.

Intimate Exchanges
59E59 Theaters
59 East 59th St.
New York, NY 10022
Tickets: 212-279-4200
Running time: 2 hours with 1 intermission
Thru July 1

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