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A CurtainUp Review

I was moved to write the play for two reasons. First, I felt very strongly that women's experience was missing from accounts of the official history of the period. But secondly, I had read that the marriage of 75% of the female agents for the Special Operations Executives had ended in diverce. It seemed that their work in the war left them either with memories or experiences which made it very hard for them to settle back into civilian life.
— David Hare, who then created the character of Susan Traherne as one of those women, and inventively dramatized her personal story within the context of England's political history in the two post war decades.
Rachel Weisz and Corey Stoll
Women's roles have changed drastically since David Hare felt compelled to give them their due in the history of the second World War and the twenty years afterwards. Audiences born after that period will have to do a Google for "Suez Canal Crisis" to understand why it is central to a scene in which Hare's world war two anti-heroine Susan Taherne has a major mental meltdown.

Yet, it doesn't matter whether you actually saw Plenty in 1982 when it premiered at the very same theater where it's now playing, as I did; or whether, like the young woman sitting next to me. The current stylishly staged and splendidly performed revival is still a gripping example of Mr. Hare's skillful blend of personal and historical theater.

Kate Nelligan created the role of the Special Operations Courier whose mental equilibrium is crushed by boredom with her mundane post-war years among the heroes for whom she risked her life but who have succumbed to complacency and materialism. Nelligan was often tagged as owning the role, but Hare's disillusioned idealist has lived on courtesy of other fine actors: Meryl Streep in the 1985 film, Cate Blanchett in a 2011 London revival, and now Rachel Weisz, once again at the Public's Newman Theater.

Though Weisz is not as deeply nuanced in every aspect of Susan's story as one might hope for. She does ruthless, self-absorption and righteousness very well indeed, but her mental fragility tilts too much towards complete craziness.

Though David Leveaux has retained the text's historical details, audiences won't have too hard a time finding ongoing counterpoints in today's world. The non-linear structure for the twelve scene with which Hare weaves together Susan's disillusioning relationship and job history with the equally disillusioning larger picture of a world won and then losig its way again can be a challenge for audiences. But it's all very smartly connected by Mike Britton's scene-to-scene revolving wall set, Jess Goldstein's marvelously period-true costumes, the mood shifting accompaniment of David Weiner's lighting and David Van Tieghem's music and sound design.

Since Weisz's Susan is on stage for every one of those kinetic flash forward, backward an in between scenes, the focus has always been on her role, almost as if this were strictly her play. However, the rest of the large cast adds immeasurably to Plenty's retaining its dramatic force. Susan's mental collapse builds gradually and believably through her interactions with other key players. Thus we see signs of her mental vulnerability even in the flashback to her glory days in France when she meets another member of the resistance team parachuted into France.

The non-chronological narration establishes a nightmarish tension. The interactions showcase the young David Hare's gift for witty and incisive dialogue. Luckily, the actors in this production are also well chosen.

Heading the deservedly praiseworthy support players is Cory Stoll. He is perfection as Raymond Brock, the third level diplomat who falls in love with her but can't save her even though he provides her with the "plenty" that people felt they were entitled to and would have after the war. Nor can he save himself from having her destroy the go-nowhere career he nevertheless treasured. Stoll and Weisz's final scene together is devastating.

The always terrific Byron Jennings is a standout as Brock's unchangeably old-fashioned boss, Sir Leonard Darwin. Another intriguing and well defined character is Susan's devoted, Bohemian friend Alice Park is superbly inhabited by Emily Bergl. Susan's complaint to Alice about her boss is an all too timely take on sexual harassment in the work place.

Even actors appearing only briefly shine; for example, Pun Bandhu as Burmese ambassador M. Aung and Ann Sanders as his wife add humor and intensity to the 1956 scene in which Susan's rage about her life and the Suez crisis errupts . . . LeRoy McLain as Mick, the working class fellow she asks to help her to become an unwed mother. . .and Ken Barrett's Codename Lazar the man from Susan's "good war" past who turns out to have become as complacent and conforming as everyone around her. Enough said. This is a cast of nineteen and since it's 1982, no doubling.

As I'm writing this tickets are sold out, so maybe the one extension already posted before the show's official opening will be followed by another. Maybe the Public will even continue its winning streak of transfers and move this revival to Broadway. Such a move might even take it to the Gerald Schoenfeld Theater that was still called the Plymouth when the original Plenty transferred there.

Post script: It would have been helpful for the Playbill to include a list giving the time line of the scenes. In it's absence I'm including one herewith
Scene One: Knightsbridge. Easter 1962 - Susan and Raymond's home
Scene Two: Nazi territory in St. Benoit, France. November 1943
Scene Three: Brussels offce of Ambassador Leonard Darwin. June 1947
Scene Four: Pimlico flat of Susan and Alice. September 1947
Scene Five: Temple where Susan asks Mick to father a child. May 1951.
Scene Six: Pimlico. December 1952
Scene Seven: Knightsbridge home of Susan and Raymond. October 1956
Scene Eight: Knightsbridge. July 1961
Scene Nine: The Foreign Office at Whitehall. January 1962
Scene Ten: Knightsbridge. Easter 1962
Scene Eleven: A Blackpool hotel. June 1962
Scene Twelve: St. Benoit farm rooftop. August 1944

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Plenty by David Hare
Directed by David Leveaux
Cast: Rachel Weisz (Susan Traherne), Corey Stoll (Raymond Brock); also Pun Bandhu (M. Aung), Ken Barnett (Codename Lazar), Emily Bergl (Alice Park), Dani De Waal (Louise), Mike Iveson (Another Frenchman), Byron Jennings (Leonard Darwin), LeRoy McClain (Mick), Tim Nicolai (John Begley), Paul Niebanck (Sir Andrew Charleson), Ann Sanders (Mme. Aung), Benjamin Thys (A Frenchman), and Liesel Allen Yeager (Dorcas).
Scenic design by Mike Britton
Costume design by Jess Goldstein
Lighting design by David Weiner
Original music and sound design by David Van Tieghem
Hair and wig design by Leah J. Loukas
Stage Manager: Buzz Cohen
Running Time: Approx. 2 and 1/2 hours including one intermission
Public Theater 420 Lafayette St.
From 10/04/16; opening 10//20/16; closing 11/06/16-- extended before opening and now closing 11/20/16.
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer at 10/20 press matinee

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