Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Albuquerque/Santa Fe

Lady Chatterley's Lover
Fusion Theatre Company
Review by Rob Spiegel

Also see Frances' review of Winning the Future and Dean's recent reviews of Dog Sees God and You Can't Take It With You


Rhiannon Frazier and
James Louis Wagner

Photo by Richard K. Hogle
When I looked into the background of this play, I had mixed feelings. For one, all of the words in the play are taken directly from D.H. Lawrence's famous long-banned book about English class and the power of sexual liberation. That seemed like good news, since it would prevent a wildly wrong interpretation of Lawrence (remember the ridiculous wrestling scene in the Ken Russell film Women in Love?). Yet the idea of sticking to the text could make the play bookish.

What I found in the Fusion production of the script by Mary Machala and John Vreeke (directed by Jacqueline Reid) was vastly different from anything I could have imagined—thank goodness.

When I first read the book, I didn't see the possibility that the upper-class characters in the proper house were amusing. They were annoying, stuffy and repressive. The real action was with Lady Chatterley and Oliver Mellors, the estate's gamekeeper with his rough-cut sensuality. Under Reid's direction the upper class estate characters are certainly stuffy and repressive, but they're not annoying—they're hilarious. Who would have thought they could be turned into a romping farce, sometimes dipping nearly into Three Stooges territory.

During intermission, I asked a couple of the Fusion team members where all the funny came from. Both quickly responded, "Oh, that comes from Jackie," meaning Reid's direction. I didn't see it in the book, but it works great. Her actors are up to it, too. Laurie Thomas—always good—is funnier than I ever would have imagined as Mrs. Bolton, who has come to the estate to care from Clifford Chatterley (Michael Samuel Kaplan), who is also surprisingly laugh inciting.

Chatterley is in a wheelchair, suffering from World War I wounds that have left him impotent. Thomas and Kaplan use the wheelchair as a hilarious prop. Paul Blott as Lady Chatterley's father, Sir Malcom, has become a charmingly farcical cad who encourages his daughter in her love of Mellors. Another laugh a minute.

The basic setup is that Clifford has encouraged his wife to have a discreet affair so they might have a child. Given this permission, Lady Chatterley puts up little resistance when she finds herself attracted to Mellors. The heart of the book is the connection between these two as they play out the affair. Connie Chatterley crosses class lines to be with Mellors (so much for discreet) and stumbles onto a kindred soul who is able to connect deeply through his sensuality and sexuality.

D.H. Lawrence is a master of describing spiritual union through sex. Mellors opens an entirely new world for Connie, a world she didn't know existed, one that she embraces as she grows beyond social roles and discovers a free-flying self within that spills out into the rainy English nature, proud, strong—and lusty.

James Louis Wagner as Mellors and Rhiannon Frazier as Connie Chatterley embrace their roles bravely, with full-blown sensuality, wearing their skin like inspired costumes. Reid makes sure the farce that's running crazy in the big house doesn't distract from the love that's budding in the cottage and garden. The beating heart of the story belongs to the lovers. Their connection is powerful, a natural force with the strength of authenticity that shatters the world of manners. Wagner and Frazier move through this wild dance exquisitely.

The set design by producer Dennis Gromelski and scenic artist David Pearson is lovely and effective, serving as space for both the mannered house and the natural grounds of the cottage. Terrific job from all of the designers and production crew. Yet this is really Jacqueline's Reid's show through and through. The blend and the back-and-forth of the mannered and controlled versus the natural and out of control truly captures the essence of Lawrence.

D. H. Lawrence's Lady Chatterley's Lover, adapted by Mary Machala and John Vreeke and directed by Jacqueline Reid, is produced by the Fusion Theatre Company. The play runs at the Cell Theatre, 700 1st. St. NW, through November 20, 2016. Performances are Fridays at 7:00 pm, Saturdays at 2:00 pm and 8:00 pm, and Sunday at 3:00 pm. Friday, November 11th at 8 pm is Union Night. Members of any union receive $25 tickets with valid ID. Must call box office for reservations. Tickets are $40, $35 for seniors, and students pay their age. For reservations, go to liveatthecell.com, or call 766-9412.


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