Sign up for our free newsletter
Free D.C. news, delivered to your inbox daily.
Gore Vidal once said that he didn’t like going to the theater because the actors were always having such a better time than he was. We all know what he meant: It’s exhausting to watch plays that confuse frenzy with passion, making mincemeat out of the scenery instead of a case to the audience. Written in 1932 by J.B. Priestley, Dangerous Corner is six characters in search of an ulcer, all seamy revelation and spontaneous soul-baring. Brimming with secrets and fueled by an exceptionally well-stocked drink cart, these overclassers (directors of a publishing firm, their wives, and the firm’s secretary) almost instantly begin taking turns peeling the dead skin of contentment from one another to get to the adultery, theft, and unrequited love underneath—and then there’s what really caused their former partner Martin to shoot himself exactly one year before. Viewing Dangerous Corner is like plummeting through a series of trapdoors, constantly thinking you’ve finally gotten to the bottom of things only to step through a rug and into another emotional free fall. The play is also something of a trap for actors and directors: Priestley starts the pyrotechnics before they’ve had time to establish character, so they have to modulate, to make you care about why they’re emoting instead of the mere fact that they are. But Classika Theatre’s cast, though game, hits maximum volume 10 minutes into the proceedings and pretty much keeps it pinned there for the rest of the evening. James Beller as the smarmy Charles Stanton comes off best, by turns lip-smackingly wicked and tremblingly self-righteous as he unmasks every pretension he can get his hands on. Jessica Gotta as Betty Whitehouse adds a much-needed note of entirely unromantic sexuality, and Jason Morris is achingly innocent as her husband, Gordon, the young partner who had a bad case of puppy love for Martin. Misha Katchman’s versatile set design—an expressionist upper-class drawing room with a highly permeable back wall and a very frightening hanging plant—however, is overexploited: Instead of a tool that brings out the play’s inherent humor, in director Yuri Kordonsky’s hands, it becomes a billboard announcing, “This is absurd.” It’s not really clear whether Kordonsky thinks Dangerous Corner can still be an effective melodrama or now just ranks as farce (or even parody); and the audience is often confused as a result, with many lines (laugh and otherwise) not landing their punches. Still, Priestley’s reprising coda—which shows how a moment’s chance can change a mood and thus all that follows—does hit home. Classika is to be commended for taking on such a difficult project with verve. It’s just that when “Shut up!” is the most common line in a play, it’s hard for anybody to hear himself think.—Robert Lalasz