The Jungle Theateris known for smart plays (and those dandy cup holders). Artist director Bain Boehlke consistently puts together solid seasons and provocative productions. The staging of Australian Joanna Murray-Smith's Honour joins the Jungle's growing list of successes.
Murray-Smith, like the English playwright Harold Pinter, effectively uses understatement and silence to build tension. The moments of silence are briefer than those in many Pinter plays, but are just as deafening as George (Allen Hamilton) and Honour (Camille D'Ambrose) navigate the devastation of a 32-year marriage. George is a famous journalist and intellectual and Honour is his wife, a writer who has not published a word since shortly after their marriage. Claudia (Carolyn Pool), a 28-year-old interviewer doing a book about George, seizes on Honour's absence from publishing to denigrate her and justify Claudia's own choices as a woman and thinker. George's affair with Claudia appears inevitable from the very first scene of the play; this affair and the resulting disintegration of a third of a century of intimacy and commitment function as a backdrop for an exploration of love, loyalty, and intellectual legacy.
Murray-Smith's writing is incisive and her development of story patient and astute. The nuances of her play raise a common enough situation - infidelity and mid-life crisis - from the cliche of soap opera to abject poignancy. The Associated Press called it a "bold domestic drama," and Newsweek labeled it "intriguing, intellectual and riveting." Honour was a smash in both Melbourne and London before hitting the States.
The backbone of this production is surely Camille D'Ambrose; her subtle portrayal of Honour is riveting. She moves fluidly from humor to pain to anger with restraint, imbuing Honour with quiet dignity. Unfortunately, the depth and complexity of Honour (and D'Ambrose's deft portrayal) exposes the flatter aspects of the other characters. George, despite Hamilton's tremendous talent, is little more than a man desperately seeking a new lease on his libido and Pool is not given enough emotional space to reveal Claudia as much more than predatory.
There are moments - always during conversations with Honour - when the sympathetic and distinctly human pieces of the characters shine through. In particular, Claudia struggles through what it means to be a woman and an intellectual in a third-wave feminist world. In a confrontation with Honour, she declares "I'm rectifying your sacrifices." Claudia slowly realizes the consequences of behavior bereft of moral compass. In a later scene, Claudia returns to Honour to discuss her relationship with George. Honour's ennui is captivating; she turns on Claudia with "Don't make me watch you grow up."
Sophie, George and Honour's daughter, is played skillfully by Tracey Maloney and reveals herself to be at times more savvy than either Claudia or Honour in negotiating her own identity. Her rage at her father's infidelity and her mother's refusal to "fight for" George is compelling. Her single encounter with Claudia is illuminating, revealing both Sophie's dependence upon the integrity of her parent's marriage and Claudia's self-protective cynicism.
The set is characteristic of Jungle Theater productions - both spartan and elegant. It focuses attention on the actors and the sharp writing. Echoing the sparseness of the dialogue, the set makes the tragedy of George and Honour's breakup even more wrenching.
The faults of the play are minor. The production is moving and evocative and among the best several plays that have been staged recently in the Twin Cities. As the play leans toward its measured and graceful end, it is Honour (and not George) who promises to live on in Claudia's imagination. And it is Honour who will live on in the memories of the audience.
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