Pacific Resident Theatre presents
D. H. Lawrence’s
Lady Chatterley’s Lover
SANTA MONICA MIRROR
May 8, 2001
D.H. LAWRENCE THRIVES AT
PACIFIC RESIDENT THEATRE
Special to the Mirror
A stage adaptation of “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” — it sounded like trouble. As Marilyn Fox, Pacific Resident Theatre Artistic Director, mentions in her note, there are just too many ways to screw it up, to rob the novel of its complexity, or even reduce it to “a sort of soft-core porn.”
But by using D.H. Lawrence’s text exclusively and retaining the third person narrative, adapters John Vreeke and Mary Machala circumvent the dangers of putting this sensual masterpiece in the flesh. This style, the signature of Seattle’s prestigious Book-It Repertory Theatre for which the adaptation was first created, not only preserves the social context of the novel, as well as Lawrence’s evocative prose; it’s also amazingly effective on the stage.
Director John Vreeke cleverly addresses the challenges of this kind of storytelling. Played on a nearly bare stage, his painstakingly choreographed scenes capture the imagination– we see a shaded wood, a London street, the desolate rooms of Ragby. Vreeke paces us through necessary spells of exposition with seeming ease, using his versatile cast of six, as well as his meticulous costume and lighting designers (Audrey Eisner and John Fejes), to delineate places and moments. It all goes by quickly at times, and one has to pay active attention– actually, in that sense, the experience is kind of like reading.
But I doubt the most imaginative of readers could conjure a more apt Constance Chatterley than Lesley Fera. As the socially isolated, sexually denied wife of an aristocrat who finds herself drawn to her estate’s gamekeeper, Fera is elegant yet uninhibited. She portray’s Connie’s restlessness, despair, and finally, her ecstasy with honesty and grace. One thing that surprised me about the play was how often I laughed. Fera, with her sensitivity to the story’s funny ironies, was a contributor to the amusing moments, as were Andi Carnick, Amy Warner, and Bruce French, who each play multiple roles. The scene in which Connie’s father (French) meets Connie’s lover is brutally hilarious.
Oliver Mellors, the object of Constance’s desire, is played by Timothy Murphy (who does a fine job with a difficult dialect). His Mellors is passionate, kind, and physically assured, the glowing remedy for all that ails Constance, and Murphy and Fera capture beautifully the couple1s intimate relationship.
And Constance’s husband, poor Clifford Chatterley, dryly intellectual captain of industry, is left out in the cold. While his is the one character in the play who could be seen as intolerably arrogant, perverse, and a bit of a monster, Michael Tulin doesn’t let us off that easily. His Clifford arouses sympathy and blame by turns — but the moment when Constance, in love’s first blush, forgets to kiss him good night is one of the most affecting of the play.