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A CurtainUp London London Review
Serenading Louie

It's just when you are home, you spend every waking hour asleep. — Gabrielle
Serenading Louie
Back of Jason Butler Harner as Alex and Jason O'Mara as Carl (Hugo Glendinning)
This revival at the Donmar Warehouse of American author Lanford Wilson's Serenading Louie is a play set in the Chicago suburbs of the early 1970s about two couples who have fallen out of love in different ways. In one pair she is randy and he isn't, at least not with her and in the other, she is randy but not with him. The play is written from the male point of view rather than from the female and feminists may not warm to it.

Played with fluidity in the same space, two couples rotate, each setting their domestic life in this same detailed 1960s living room set with its doors into the bedroom and to the outside. At least initially they rotate but by the end of the play one person or pair may sit quietly in darkness while the other couple's scene is played out.

Alex (Jason Butler Harner) has a high powered legal career and seems to spend every waking moment working but see the quote above for how this feels to his wife. His wife Gabby (Charlotte Emmerson) is homemaking and he's pissed off. She's "talking to the roast" he tells us and sure enough, she is addressing a piece of meat and we can only sympathise with the misogynist. Gabrielle is nervous after Alex's high powered court case meant his family might be threatened and she thinks she is being followed. Carl (Jason O'Mara), who doesn't hate women was a sports star and everyone knows his "wife" Mary is having an affair with the company accountant.

The breakdown in Alex's relationship takes the form of bitching about Gabby. His women hating speeches as he confides in Carl are revealing and extreme. This 1970s play has the men reacting to the pressures on them created by the sexual revolution of the 1960s. Alex complains that the girls of his generation are so oversexed that they wear out their husbands in six weeks! The tragedy of the relationship between Gabby, the needy woman and her rejecting husband is that so much that he describes about her in a cruel way is held up for the audience to ridicule. She does parade around in a succession of baby doll nightdresses attempting to lure her husband into bed which is pathetic but desperate.

The second act sees the four socialising together, knocking back Sidecars and making small talk. Gabrielle and Mary however talk about their men. Mary looks back on the grass is greener days of their early relationship and says, "I don't actually think I loved him then but I loved him then now!" The superficial amiability between the four is exposed when Alex and Gabby leave and nicey, nicey Mary explodes with relief "Jeeesus" she says and we hope out of earshot of the departing guests.

The male performances are excellent. Jason O'Mara's sympathetic, emasculated aging sportsman contrasts with Jason Butler Harner's unsympathetic selfish, hard nosed lawyer. The parts for the women aren't as interesting but Charlotte Emmerson as Gabby wheedles, her self esteem spiralling downwards and Geraldine Somerville brazens it out as Mary.

The title Serenading Louie comes from a song by a Yale "a cappella " group The Whiffenpoofs, a reference lost on the British audience but presumably alluding to the camaraderie of college friends. Serenading Louie contrasts the destructive behaviour of each married couple but shows the support that the men, friends from college, can give each other. It is a bleak sequel to Valentine's Day but a play that will stimulate discussion.

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Serenading Louie
Written by Lanford Wilson
Directed by Simon Curtis

Starring: Charlotte Emmerson, Jason Butler Harner, Jason O'Mara, Geraldine Somerville
Design: Peter McKintosh
Lighting: Guy Hoare
Composer and Sound: Adam Cork
Running time: Two hours 15 minutes with one interval
Box Office: 0844 871 7624
Booking to 27th March 2010
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 16th February 2010 performance at the Donmar Warehouse, Earlham Street, London WC2H 9LX (Tube:Covent Garden)

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