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Ten Chimneys

REBECCA JACOBSON
7:30 pm Wednesdays-Sundays, 2 pm Sundays through May 26., Friday May 17 | $25-$50.
Artists Repertory Theatre
1515 SW Morrison St.
 
Ten Chimneys premiered in 2011. But with its old-fashioned form and frothy narrative, it might as well have been produced in the 1930s. That’s not entirely a bad thing. Jeffrey Hatcher’s comedy centers on Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne, lauded as the greatest husband-and-wife team in the history of American theater. It picks up in 1938, with the couple hosting rehearsals at their rural Wisconsin estate for a production of Anton Chekhov’s The Seagull. That means (deep breath) we have actors (the finely tuned Artists Rep cast) playing actors (Lunt, Fontanne and others) playing actors (Chekhov’s melancholy characters). Add in the fact that The Seagull is also set at a country estate, and the meta-theatricality is head-spinning. For non-buffs, it all might be a bit opaque, or even off-putting in its sometimes strained parallels with The Seagull. But for those willing to surrender to the play’s self-aware nostalgia, it’s an affectionate throwback to the likes of Noel Coward and George S. Kaufman. As the Portland directorial debut of Artists Rep’s incoming artistic director, Dámaso Rodriguez, it’s a safe but well-oiled—and occasionally very funny—piece of theater. Joining Lunt (Michael Mendelson) and Fontanne (Linda Alper) in Wisconsin are the portly Sydney Greenstreet (Todd Van Voris) and an 18-year-old Uta Hagen (Abby Wilde). Hagen’s presence stokes some tension, but the play is best not when its characters are sulking or bellyaching, but when they’re showcasing their craft or slinging one-liners. At one point, Lunt and Fontanne rehearse a scene repeatedly, each iteration gaining velocity and heat. It’s a treat to watch Alper, an Oregon Shakespeare veteran and a grande dame of the local theater scene, playing such a legendary character: She expertly channels both pride and vulnerability. As Lunt’s half sister, Sarah Lucht provides a delightfully acid-tongued antidote to all the fluff—in a moment of contained rage, she spouts how The Seagull is a stupid play about stupid people acting stupidly. Ten Chimneys, on the other hand, is a mostly smart play about showy people acting in occasionally foolish ways, as Chekhov and Coward whisper to them from the wings.

Where: Artists Repertory Theatre
Phone: 241-1278
Address: 1515 SW Morrison St.
Website: http://www.artistsrep.org/onstage/201213-season/ten-chimneys.aspx

 
 
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