THEATER REVIEW Lady Chatterley’s Lover

Thursday, October 26, 2000 Los Angeles Times

Lady Chatterley’s Lover
Faithful to D.H. Lawrence
By PHILIP BRANDES, Special to The Times

It’s a bit ironic to talk about fidelity and “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” in the same breath. After all, D.H. Lawrence’s 1928 erotic masterpiece scandalized readers with its celebration of an adulterous affair between an aristocrat’s wife and her gamekeeper. Yet fidelity is the quality that most distinguishes Pacific Resident Theatre’s sensual, passionate and eloquent staging, which honors Lawrence’s work to a degree rarely encountered in literary adaptations.

Originally developed by John Vreeke (who directs) and Mary Machala for Seattle’s Book-It Repertory Theatre, the script is taken entirely from Lawrence’s novel, including more than just dialogue. Following Book-It’s signature style, the characters also deliver third-person narration about their own backgrounds, motivations and feelings, all culled from Lawrence’s vivid prose.

The technique allows the audience a more complete experience of the novel. It also retains Lawrence’s descriptive power, which economically distills realities that would take a lot more stage business to establish–as when we hear that newlyweds Constance (Lesley Fera) and the soon-to-be-crippled Clifford (Michael Tulin) Chatterley embark on their new life “intimate as two people who stand on board a sinking ship.”

The unusual device also requires some adjustments to viewers’ traditional theatrical expectations. The ongoing inclusion of narrative interjections–whether a complete description or a simple “he said” and “she wondered”–introduces pacing and cadence very different from pure dialogue, along with some inevitable distancing from the accustomed immediacy of live performance. Part of Vreeke’s elegant solution is to have his cast emote their narrations with feelings appropriate to the context–turning even recitation into a performance vehicle.
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This poses unique challenges for the sextet of performers, who all impress in quickly making this highly literary device seem natural and fluid onstage. They’re equally adept with the traditional mechanics of evoking convincing characters. Timothy Murphy smolders as the gamekeeper Mellors, a plain-spoken pinnacle of defiance who embodies Lawrence’s mystical longing to return to a natural order lost in the mechanized wake of the Industrial Revolution. For Lawrence, the antidote was to embrace and delight in open sexuality, and Murphy and Fera enthusiastically comply in an extended, explicit rainstorm tryst that honors the novel’s insistence that eroticism is a healing and beautiful experience–even when the union is achingly partial and fleeting.

In contrast, Tulin’s Clifford is tragically torn apart by a conflict he never fully understands–his willingness to allow Constance her freedom raging against his need to possess and control her. Adding spice and breadth to the story are Bruce French as Constance’s hilariously unpredictable father, Andi Carnick as her more conventional sister, and Amy Warner as Clifford’s busybody nurse.
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“Lady Chatterley’s Lover,” Pacific Resident Theatre, 703 Venice Blvd., Venice. Thursdays through Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Ends Dec. 10. $20-$22. (310) 822-8392. Running time: 2 hours, 35 minutes.

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