There’s still time to nominate local icons for Best of D.C.
As a culture, we like to watch. But the distance that can make voyeurism deliciously titillating can also make it somewhat off-putting—at least at the beginning of Mary Machala and John Vreeke’s stage adaptation of Lady Chatterley’s Lover. Vreeke’s staging places the six-person ensemble in Greek-chorus mode, standing, caryatidlike at first, around Misha Kachman’s economical set and delivering D.H. Lawrence’s tale of the Reid sisters and their bohemian adventures in reader’s-theater style, via the third person. When Constance and Hilda—speaking about Constance and Hilda—deliver such Lawrence-isms as “So they had given the gift of themselves” as they’re being near-breathlessly rogered by a couple of anonymous Germans, the effect is so comical one can only wonder what’s going to happen, dialogue-wise, when Constance becomes Lady Chatterley and the title character shows up: socio-sexual drama, or some kind of logorrheic variation on Benny Hill? This narrative convention remains throughout the play, and if it takes some getting used to, it’s worth it, for Lawrence’s descriptions are acute, sometimes merciless, and always human beyond anything even the talented Washington Shakespeare Company could make flesh. Chatterley, which garnered two Helen Hayes nominations last year, has returned for another run at the Clark Street Playhouse with one cast change: Ian Armstrong portrays the cavalier, all-head-and-no-balls Lord Clifford Chatterley. (A bland smile and a broken heart are important additions to his anatomy.) His scenes with Michelle Shupe, as Constance, are among the talky bits that probably constitute the less well-thumbed sections of your college copy of the novel; but there’s as much passion in them as in the parts from the grubby, wrinkled pages. Hugh T. Owen’s portrayal of gamekeeper Oliver Mellors—he of the delicate pheasants and proud John Thomas—is too restrained for much of the play; he’s so inscrutable that it takes a while to understand how Constance can lust after not only his loins, but also his mind. (It’s also not easy to comprehend Mellors’ feigned Derbyshire accent.) But in the second half, in a playful, sky-clad romp in the rain, Owen reveals Mellors’ romantic whimsy, and later, his final speech is as heartbreaking as it is simply elegant. Hayes nominee Shupe, with the patrician prettiness of the old Nancy Drew, is endlessly watchable: alert as a whippet, quivering with social oppression, and, even as Mellors acknowledges, sometimes a bit of a bitch. The rest of the cast members, particularly Charlotte Akin as doughty Mrs. Bolton and Nanna Ingvarsson as know-it-all Hilda, balance the leads perfectly. But this production has a seventh character: the author himself. If you’re going to fall in love with anyone you meet at Clark Street, it will be Lawrence. —Pamela Murray Winters