Sunday, December 19, 2010

A 'Brief Encounter' That Goes a Long Way

Tristan Sturrock and Hannah Yelland, above, as restrained lovers Alec and Laura in "Brief Encounter." Photos by Joan Marcus.


EMMA Rice’s “Brief Encounter”
takes Noel Coward’s 1945 film adaptation of his one-act play about forbidden love, “Still Life,” from the screen to the silver stage!

At Roundabout Theatre's Studio 54 in an extended run through 2 Jan., "Brief Encounter" pays tribute to its cinematic origins in uniquely cinematic ways.

Director ER (she is also responsible for the adaptation) uses film clips, toy trains, and a multi-level stage that serves as train trestle and love nest, to nice effect.

Speaking of effects: at one point the heroine, Laura (Hannah Yelland), steps from the stage into the screen to join her husband, Fred (Joseph Alessi) in a film version of the scene. Later, Alec (Tristan Sturrock) dives through the image of a speeding train and appears at a window as it speeds by on screen.

Laura (Hannah Yelland) seeing her man off - it is her husband or her lover? - in a scene from "Brief Encounter."

Laura and Alec, both respectable, married people, meet by chance at a railroad station teashop. Laura has a splinter in her eye; Alec, explaining that he is a doctor, helps her remove it. Over time they continue to meet, first for a movie, then a row, then a brief affair. Thursdays are marked by the lovers’ meeting - or on one occasion - missing each other except for a brief moment of explanation before a train takes Alec home. As the teashop owner, Mrs. Myrtle Bagot, (Annette McLaughlin) remarks at one juncture, this is going to end badly. (See trailer:

Love, or lust, is in the air elsewhere, too: Myrtle Bagot has a flirtation and a bit more with Albert, the stationmaster, (also played by Joseph Alessi). Her shop girl, Beryl (Dorothy Atkinson), and Stanley (Gabriel Ebert) are also carrying on. But it is Laura and Alec's story that is meant to be the poignant core of "Brief Encounter." Myrtle and Albert are livelier than Laura and Alec. Their animation is in part thanks to a class system that allows “lower classes” to have more fun in matters of love. Laura and Alec are firmly of the middle class, and their decency makes their passion almost decorous – and less than passionate – and them dull.

Annette McLaughlin and Joseph Alessi as exuberant lovers in "Brief Encounter."

That is not to say that the acting and actors aren’t excellent. ER’s Kneehigh Theatre Company is a talented bunch. The actors sing and play a variety of instruments, and in some cases, parts, with finesse. AMcL’s Myrtle delivers two particularly entertaining versions of a love song in which she first discloses that she is not good at love and then that she is.

In theory, “Brief Encounter” is an agreeable way to spend 90 minutes with nice people in and out of the teashop. The "Brief Encounter" for the audience, however, is an uneventful and somewhat bland melodrama.

Visit to learn more about “Brief Encounter."

Tamara Beck is President, Clean Lists Associates, Inc, an association management firm. And an avid theater-goer.

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