Saturday, October 9, 2010

Theater Review: Brief Encounter

Film, Stage Versions, Waves Crash
By Lauren Yarger
The worlds of film and stage collide in a new rendering of Noel Coward’s story of an impossible affair between two married people in Roundabout Theatre Company’s production of Brief Encounter, adapted and directed by Emma Rice.

This version, combining elements of video, special effects and original music by Stu Barker, tries really hard to recapture the charm and clever staging of another film-to-stage hit, The 39 Steps, a tongue-in-cheek rendering of the Alfred Hitchcock classic still running Off-Broadway after a critically acclaimed Broadway presentation. Brief Encounter falls short, however, as all of the elements, while interesting in their own right, fail to come together to create a parody of the film or a cohesive story, for that matter.

Much of the presentation is a lot of fun. There are comedic actors (Annette McLaughlin as a horny waitress of the rail station cafe and Dorothy Atkinson as her assistant among other characters), puppets (two mop dogs are particularly funny) and terrific special effects that allow the characters to travel in and out a movie screen and swing from chandeliers -- literally (Neil Murray, set and costume design; Jon Driscoll and Gemma Carrington, production design; Malcolm Rippeth, lighting design; Steve Beers, technical supervisor). The story about the two lovers just gets lost in the mix.

Laura (Hannah Yelland) and Alec (Tristan Sturrock) share an attraction after a brief meeting in the train station, then allow their passion to grow with subsequent encounters, despite the fact that both already are married. Laura’s husband, Fred (Joseph Alessi) doesn’t seem to notice Laura’s absences, even when she’s nowhere to be found when their son (played by a puppet) is in an accident.

We’re supposed to grasp that the crashing waves projected onto a screen behind the action represents the unsatiated passion that Alec and Laura feel for each other. Meetings in secret rooms and the taking off of clothes following a spill into the water during a rowboat encounter lead us to think the couple are having an affair. Fans of the movie, and perhaps those who read a story in the Playbill, will know that the affair is unconsummated and the waves only symbolic of feeling, not depiction of anything actually happening. If the waves weren’t crashing, however, you might miss that pent-up passion, because the straight-laced characters really don’t have any apparent chemistry. That Alec is struggling with any guilt also is lost, as the fact that he’s married doesn’t become clear in Rice’s adaptation until the story is almost completed.

There are subplots with Myrtle (McLaughlin) and Albert (also Alessi) getting physical and Stanley (Gabriel Ebert), the candy vendor, declaring his love for the clumsy, scooter-riding Beryl, who gets physical with a bass instrument while singing Coward’s “Mad About the Boy” (the musicians are costumed, on stage and provide some period music before and after the show). There are a few attempts to copy the hysterically funny windy scenes and tiny prop bits from The 39 Steps, but everything remains disjointed with the impression that each element was added to stand out on its own, rather than to be part of a larger work.

Brief Encounter runs through Dec. 6 at Studio 54, 254 W54th St., NYC. Tickets are available by calling (212) 719-1300.

Christians might also like to know:
• A bathing suit in a film projection is rather scanty.


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Our reviews are professional reviews written without a religious bias. At the end of them, you can find a listing of language, content or theological issues that Christians might want to know about when deciding which shows to see.

** Mature indicates that the show has posted an advisory because of content. Usually this means I would recommend no one under the age of 16 attend.

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

My Bio

Lauren Yarger has written, directed and produced numerous shows and special events for both secular and Christian audiences. She co-wrote a Christian musical version of “A Christmas Carol” which played to sold-out audiences of over 3,000 in Vermont and was awarded the 2000 Vermont Bessie (theater and film awards) for “People’s Choice for Theatre.” She also has written two other dinner theaters, sketches for church services and devotions for Christian artists.

Yarger trained for three years in the Broadway League’s Producer Development Program, completed the Commercial Theater Institute's Producing Three-Day Training and produced a one-woman musical about Mary Magdalene that toured nationally and closed with an off-Broadway run.

She was a Fellow at the National Critics Institute at the O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford, CT. She writes reviews of Broadway and off-Broadway theater (the only ones you can find in the US with an added Christian perspective) at

She is editor of The Connecticut Arts Connection (, an award-winning website featuring theater and arts news for the state. She is a contributing editor for and is a theater reviewer for the Manchester Journal-Inquirer. She previously served as Connecticut theater editor for and as Connecticut and New York reviewer for American Theater Web.

Yarger is a book reviewer for Publishers Weekly and freelances for other sites. She is a member of the National Book Critics Circle.

She is a freelance writer and playwright and member of The Drama Desk, The Outer Critics Circle, The American Theater Critics Association and The League of Professional Theatre Women. She served as a judge for the SDX Awards presented by the Society of Professional Journalists. She also is a member of the Connecticut Critics Circle and the CT Press Club.

A former newspaper editor and graduate of the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, Yarger also worked in arts management for the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, the Hartford Symphony Orchestra and served for nine years as the Executive Director of Masterwork Productions, Inc. She lives with her husband in West Granby, CT. They have two adult children.


All material is copyright 2008- 2017 by Lauren Yarger. Reviews and articles may not be reprinted without permission. Contact


Key to Content Notes:

God's name taken in vain -- means God or Jesus is used in dialogue without speaking directly to or about them.

Language -- means some curse words are used. "Minor" usually means the words are not too strong or that it only occurs once or twice throughout the show.

Strong Language -- means some of the more heavy duty curse words are used.

Nudity -- means a man or woman's backside, a man's lower front or a woman's front are revealed.

Scantily clad -- means actors' private areas are technically covered, but I can see a lot of them.

Sexual Language -- means the dialogue contains sexually explicit language but there's no action.

Sexual Activity -- means a man and woman are performing sexual acts.

Adultery -- Means a married man or woman is involved sexually with someone besides their spouse. If this is depicted with sexual acts on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Sex Outside of Marriage -- means a man and woman are involved sexually without being married. If this is depicted sexually on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Homosexuality -- means this is in the show, but not physically depicted.

Homosexual activity -- means two persons of the same sex are embracing/kissing. If they do more than that, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Cross Dresser -- Means someone is dressing as the opposite sex. If they do more than that on stage the listing would include the corresponding "sexual activity" and/or "homosexual activity" as well.

Cross Gender -- A man is playing a female part or a woman is playing a man's part.

Suggestive Dancing -- means dancing contains sexually suggestive moves.

Derogatory (category added Fall 2012) Language or circumstances where women are referred to or treated in a negative and demeaning manner.

Other content matters such as torture, suicide or rape will be noted, with details revealed only as necessary in the review itself.

The term "throughout" added to any of the above means it happens many times throughout the show.

Reviewing Policy

I receive free seats to Broadway and Off-Broadway shows made available to all voting members of the Outer Critics Circle and The Drama Desk, the two professional critics organizations with journalists covering NY theater. Journalistically, I provide an unbiased review and am under no obligation to make positive statements. Sometimes shows do not make tickets available to reviewers. If these are shows my readers want to know about (I review all Broadway shows and pertinent Off-Broadway shows), I will purchase a ticket. If a personal friend is involved in a production, I'll let you know, but it won't influence a review. If I feel there is a conflict, I won't review their portion of the production.

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