Review - Ten Chimneys: Who's Afraid of Uta Hagen

It was a very clever idea playwright Jeffrey Hatcher had, to write a Chekhovian style comedy about American theatre's royal couple, Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne, set in their country home as they prepare to go into rehearsal for a production of The Seagull. And Ten Chimneys, named after the Wisconsin estate that provides the play's setting, frequently lives up to that cleverness; though its wit could be somewhat sharper and its character study could go a bit deeper in order to match the potential of the idea.

The Lunts, as they were known, regularly turned down handsome sums of Hollywood money, preferring to trod the boards both on Broadway and on tours, so there is little remaining recorded evidence of their sporadic work in film, television and radio. Married in 1921, they happily spent their careers appearing together in plays that offered good roles for both of them.

Designer Harry Feiner fills the stage with a lovely cottage that would give most playgoers a severe case of real estate envy - exterior for Act I and interior for Act II - and the playwright populates it in Chekhovian fashion, with an assortment of characters spanning generations and social statuses.

Hatcher has the couple preparing for a tour of the classic, playing Arkadina and Trigorin, and wanting to do a bit of exploratory work before formal rehearsals begin. Byron Jennings, a familiar Broadway face who specializes in playing elegant period gentlemen, is a perfect choice to play Alfred Lunt; charmingly proper with hints of insecurity that bubble to the top on occasion, but confident and knowledgeable when working at his craft. As the British-born Fontanne, Jennings' real-life wife, Carolyn McCormick, comes off a bit exaggerated in her cultured tones and mannerisms, but she handles the light comedy of her role very well.

Michael McCarty plays the portly Sydney Greenstreet ("You don't look a day over 400 pounds."), their friend and cast-mate whom they've invited to work with them and enjoy a stay. Greenstreet also takes the opportunity to visit his wife in a nearby sanatorium and has begun thinking he should give up the stage for a chance to make more money and have more time to be with her in Hollywood.

Arriving on the same train as Greenstreet, days earlier than expected, is the young, up-and-comer cast as Nina, Uta Hagen (Julie Bray makes the character both naive and ambitiously flirtatious), whose attractiveness and early success - and the fact that she was hand-picked for the role by Lunt - causes bottled up friction between the co-stars. This is in addition to the full-blown friction caused by Alfred's mother's (Lucy Martin) disapproval of his choice of a mate and the casual hints that Lynn is more concerned about a male friend of her husband.

Representing the working class, in a sense, is Lunt's overworked half-sister (Charlotte Booker), who cares for their mother full time, and his pool shark half-brother (John Wernke), who is regarded somewhat as an errand boy.

Director Dan Wackerman's genial production is lathered with sufficient froth and style, especially in the script's best scenes where Lunt and Fontanne talk about their craft or are immersed in scene work, but Ten Chimneys tends to get a little tiresome when parallels to The Seagull don't quite fly.

Photos by Carol Rosegg: Top: Byron Jennings and Carolyn McCormick; Bottom: Lucy Martin, Carolyn McCormick, Byron Jennings and Julia Bray.

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"I'm a bad liar. I don't know what to say backstage."

The grosses are out for the week ending 10/7/2012 and we've got them all right here in's grosses section.

Up for the week was: MARY POPPINS (17.9%), CYRANO DE BERGERAC (11.7%), CHICAGO (10.9%), MAMMA MIA! (10.9%), NICE WORK IF YOU CAN GET IT (9.1%), THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (7.4%), WICKED (7.1%), WHO'S AFRAID OF Virginia Woolf? (5.3%), ROCK OF AGES (3.7%), PETER AND THE STARCATCHER (2.5%), ONCE (2.0%), CHAPLIN (2.0%), War Horse (1.8%), NEWSIES (1.7%), SPIDER-MAN TURN OFF THE DARK (1.6%), BRING IT ON THE MUSICAL (1.1%), EVITA (1.0%), JERSEY BOYS(0.9%),

Down for the week was: AN ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE (-11.6%), GRACE (-0.6%),

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From This Author Ben Peltz