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Strange Interlude: Psychological Drama Unmasked

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“My three men! Husband…lover…father…and the fourth (her son)…I should be the happiest woman in the world!”

This great speech by Nina Leeds (a splendid Francesca Faridany), proclaims our heroine/protagonist’s uneasy reconciliation with the multiple roles she plays in life. Nina does not become the happiest woman in the world juggling all these different pieces, but hers is hardly a tragic ending, either. This is the beauty of Director Michael Kahn’s adaption of Eugene O’Neill’s Pulitzer Prize winning play; it resists any and all temptations to go for obvious melodrama, tacked on happy endings, descents into the abyss, and just concentrates on the always messy business of people going about living. No violent confrontations, no dramatic denoument where All is Revealed, no riding off into the sunset. Even when death does appear in the third act it merely marks another stage towards a bittersweet conclusion; the great overwhelming Secrets are never revealed and this feels less anti-climatic then it does real.

Kahn’s direction is lovely. The stage is a white box setting, but during scene changes we see black and white footage from the time period and events filmed across the set to draw us in further. Kahn does a splendid job with his cast. Local D.C. favorites Tana Hickens and Ted van Griethuysen delight us with short but memorable appearances. Ted Koch is the perfect physical embodiment of the sweet but stupid Sam while Baylen Thomas brings a droll charm to Ned Darrell. But the true standout among Nina’s men may be Robert Stanton as the celibate, loyal, prissy, self-righteous, yet adorable Charles Marsden, Nina’s would be suitor and surrogate father figure. Just the way he repeats Nina’s title, “Dear old Charlie!” gets a laugh from the audience every time.

Good thing we’ve got such a talented cast; this one’s not for amateurs in any sense of the word. As plays go, Strange Interlude was always far, far ahead of its time. It deals with topics like mental illness, promiscuity, adultery, and abortion that are considered controversial even in today’s times much less in 1928 when it was first released. (It was in fact banned in certain locations).  But it wasn’t simply its content that caused such a sensation. O’Neill (influenced by reading up on psychoanalysts Freud and Jung as well as the work of James Joyce) had his characters address the audience directly, giving us their innermost thoughts and feelings, thus pioneering a whole new style for American theatre. We in the audience are, in a sense, get to visit the characters’ minds during pivotal events taking place over 25 years. And what an engrossing journey it is! An entire lifetime, in all its bittersweet glory, captured in four hours. Warning; you might want to make sure you get something caffeinated to keep you alert through the show. But if you have the stamina, then go and ride this one to the very end.

Shakespeare Theatre Company’s
Production of Strange Interlude
Directed by Michael Kahn
Lansburgh Theatre
450 7th Street, NW

Photos by Scott Suchman from top:
1. Ted van Griethuysen as Professor Henry Leeds and Robert Stanton as Charles Marsden. in the
2. Baylen Thomas as Ned Darrell and Francesca Faridany as Nina Leeds in the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s production of Strange Interlude, directed by Michael Kahn.
3. Jake Land as Young Gordon Evans and Ted Koch as Sam Evans in the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s production of Strange Interlude, directed by Michael Kahn.

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