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A CurtainUp Review
Speaking In Tongues
Speaking In Tongues Moves from London to New York
Karen Allen &Kevin Anderson
Karen Allen &
Kevin Anderson
(Photo: Joan Marcus)
Now that I've seen the American production of Andrew Bovell's multi-genre play, I can report that it has transferred with its smoke and mirrors staging as stylish as in London . The changes in cast, production team and locale have not altered Lizzie Loveridge's original assessment. Though what the characters have to say is indeed hardly original and, in fact, often a conceit begging our indulgence of its contrivances, the combination of clever script, staging and expert acting and direction make for an intriguing theatrical puzzle. Since Lizzie's review details as much of the interconnected plot elements as you should know for maximum suspense below, I'll confine my comments to the particulars of what is currently on stage.

Michael Gill
Michael Gill
(Photo: Joan Marcus)
Mark Clements has wisely opted to relocate the play in the U.S.A. with the action in a nameless city within commuting distance of a coastal town that could be in New Jersey, Connecticut or Long Island substituting for the Australian bush. His oversights in the change of scenery seem minor (e.g.: Maybe cell phones are not as common in Australia as here, but an American character stranded on a dark highway would have to make some reference to a misplaced or dead battery device to explain being in a phone booth). By not saddling the American cast with British accents or Australian vernacular, he has been rewarded with exceptional performances from all four.

Margaret Colin
Margaret Colin
(Photo: Joan Marcus)
Karen Allen segues smoothly from the meek and unfulfilled Jane in part one to a non-nonsense (or so it seems) psychotherapist Valerie. Margaret Colin, is sensuous as both Sonjia, a more confident opposite of "plain Jane" and Valerie's commitment-shy patient, Sarah, Michael Gill, who takes on three character -- Sonja's not-quite one-night stand; Nick, who lives next door to Jane and Pete; and John, Valerie's husband -- seems to transform himself simply by changing his hair style, but there's more than the flick of a hair brush involved in the richness of his triple feat. The interesting casting of one actor playing both cop and suspect in a missing person investigation disappearance, remarked on by Lizzie, is given full throttle by Kevin Anderson.

The four actors are terrific in the difficult alternating duologue at the beginning of the first part in which the action shifts between the couples, with one conversation stopping for a Pinteresque pause and the man or woman at the other end of the stage completing it. The separate meetings between the two wives and two husbands are also extremely well done, as are the respective monologues by Anderson and Allen which set up the mystery angle in the second half of the play.

The design team is as praiseworthy as the cast. Elaine J. McCarthy's projections add enormously to the reflective slickness of Richard Hoover's set design. The aura Brian MacDevitt's lighting casts over the scenes that turn marital infidelity drama into thriller, are almost enough to make the closing in on this circle of coincidences more convincing than it actually is.

Some might view Speaking In Tongues an heir to Harold Pinter's Betrayal . However, it is a bit too gimmicky and reliant on staging slickness to be on the same level . I've seen Betrayal on a bare bones set and enjoyed it as much as sleeker productions. I'm not sure Speaking In Tongues would speak to me as much without the mirrors and projections and atmospheric lighting, -- Elyse Sommer

Roundabout Production Notes
Written by Andrew Bovell
Directed by Mark Clements
Cast: Karen Allen, Kevin Anderson, Margaret Colin and Michael R. Gill.
Set Design: Richard Hoover
Projection Design: Elaine McCarthy Costume Design: Jess Goldstein
Lighting Design: Brian MacDevitt Running time: Two hours plus intermission. The Gramercy Theatre, 127 East 23rd Street
10/26/01-1/27/02; opening 11/15/01.
Tuesday - Saturday at 7:30pm; Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday at 2:00pm -$55.

---Our Original London Review- by Lizzie Loveridge

Speaking in Tongues is an original staging of a mesh of stories based on marital relationships and infidelity. It is set in modern day Australia where the majority of people live in the three big cities but where the great expanse of the Bush is always close by. Four actors take nine parts but the printed programme sorts out any confusion as to whom we are watching. Unlikely as some of these encounters would be, that is not the point. What Andrew Bovell does is to show us multifaceted characters, fragments of the whole and how we project ourselves to others.

In the opening scene, to the backdrop of three giant mirrors, two couples go for an adulterous one night stand, unaware that they are with each other's spouse. The mirrors reflect unusual angles of the parallel encounters, as if the images are fractured. The couples are paired on either side of the stage to the projection on the mirrors of a black and white slide of a bed in a seedy hotel.

What is amazing is the two dualogues which often alternate from couple to couple. Sometimes it is a stream of continuous conversation, sometimes they break away and deviate from the joint script. Sometimes they speak in unison. The effect is magnetic, part ancient Greek chorus, part something very new. What these characters have to say is not original -- the same old excuses for sexual infidelity are meted out and accepted at face value by the partnering actor -- but it is how it is said that grabs attention.

Mark Clements delivers suspenseful direction and the characters are strung tight as a wire. The play follows Leon, (Jonathan Guy Lewis), a policeman who is married to Sonja (Katharine Rogers) and who has taken Jane (Juliet Prew) to the hotel room. There's also Pete (Nigel Le Vaillant), who is married to Jane, but who has picked up Sonja. Besides the hotel scene we have: a meeting of men during which they discuss their marriages. . . Sonia and Neil confessing their infidelity while their partner stays two-facedly silent. . . the two women meeting and exchanging life stories.

In the second act Valerie (Juliet Prew ), a therapist, is stranded on a deserted road in the Bush. It is night time and her car has broken down. Her professional speciality is dysfunction but she is unable to deal with her own crumbling marriage. She repeatedly phones her husband John (Nigel le Vaillant) for help but he is out having an affair with one of her clients, Sarah (Katharine Rogers). Ms. Prew is gripping as a modern day Australian at home in the city but lost and vulnerable in the Bush. All four actors are English but speak in Australian vernacular. Jonathan Guy Lewis, in an interesting bit of casting, plays policeman and suspect. The image which remains is of a phone handset hanging, as I shall leave you by not disclosing any more of the plot.

In Part Three Leon from Part One appears and in a final scene, only momentarily lit, we see lots of small images of the slides, a cassette tape, a pair of brogues, a stiletto heeled shoe, and the dangling phone.

It all adds up to a mix of innovative drama and suspense. There's also Bovell's stylish wit, (he is the co-writer of the Australian satirical film Strictly Ballroom), Speaking in Tongues is well worth seeing. A feature film based on it is due for production in July this year under the title Lantana.

Written by Andrew Bovell
Directed by Mark Clements

London Cast: Nigel Le Vaillant, Jonathan Guy Lewis, Juliet Prew, Katharine Rogers
Design: Niki Turner
Lighting Design: Tim Mitchell
Composer: Wendy Gadian
Sound: Nick Greenhill
Running time: Two hours with an interval
A Hampstead Theatre and Derby Playhouse Joint Production
Box Office: 020 7722 9301
Booking to 1st July, 2000
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 12th June 2000 performance at Hampstead Theatre,
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