Reviewed by Judy Richter
A seemingly ideal marriage of 32 years collapses when the husband leaves the wife for a woman who's not much older than their daughter. That's the premise of Joanna Murray-Smith's "Honour" in a Berkeley Repertory Theatre production directed by Tony Taccone.
In this case, the husband, Gus Spencer (John Doman), is a successful journalist who writes an economics column for a newspaper. His wife, Honor (Kathleen Chalfant), is a noted poet who has put her writing on the back burner for the sake of Gus and their daughter, Sophie (Emily Donahoe), 24. An ambitious, rising journalist, Claudia (Christa Scott-Reed), starts interviewing Gus for an article about influential American thinkers. Their sessions start off professionally, and Honor even invites her over for dinner. However, the conversations take on flirtatious, sexual undertones, and Gus gazes admiringly at the attractive Claudia's short skirts and low-cut blouses. Before long, they're in each other's arms.
Honor is stunned when Gus announces he's leaving her for the 29-year-old Claudia. Honor can't fathom what went wrong, but he just mumbles that he wants more out of life. Sophie is furious, too, but he seems resolute.
Taccone and his fine cast carefully develop the emotional nuances of Murray-Smith's script. Each of the characters has a chance to express emotions and to reveal more to their motivations than just a veneer. Each character also changes during the course of the play, which runs without intermission. In the end, everyone is wiser, and the women are moving ahead with their lives, but a marriage is in ruins.
All four actors are exceptional, especially the women. Doman is fine, too, even though the author cuts Gus less slack. It's hard to see him as much more than a middle-aged man who falls victim to lust and who fails to appreciate all that his wife has done for him. He also might be looking for a daughter surrogate who more closely realizes his ideals of success than Sophie, who's still in the college mode with her streaked hair, multiple ear piercings, jeans and hooded sweatshirt.
Technical values are high with a versatile set by Annie Smart, costumes by Lydia Tanji, lighting by Alexander V. Nichols and sound by Andre Pluess and Ben Sussman.
There might be some carping about why a new play would focus on a feminist issue that has come to seem old hat, but the total play and production are so well done that any question of timeliness seems irrelevant. After all, adultery is still adultery.