Published in Gay and Lesbian Times December 20, 2002
Most holiday stories and shows are all about good cheer and celebration. But we all know that there’s a flip side to the giddy glad tidings — the depression, isolation and despair the season often brings. This is the domain of Robert Anderson, who’s been dubbed “the playwright of loneliness.”
“Silent Night, Lonely Night” is set on Christmas eve 1959, in a New England inn, far from the holiday festivities. A single man and woman happen to be in adjacent rooms, each nursing a drink and a deep, private pain. In a torturously slow progression of scenes, they come together to bare their souls (and maybe even their bodies), to spend the evening with someone other than their own demons. It’s a predictable and often irritating play — pedantic and artificial at times, though there are a few moments of genuine emotion or connection. It’s really a two-hander, but Anderson somehow felt compelled to throw in four superfluous characters, only one of whom, the housekeeper (Juliane Scott) serves any function at all — a clumsy foil for some early exposition.
At the Actor’s Asylum, the cast is game, though what they have to work with (in the case of all but the two main characters) is inconsequential. Still, Nessa Hill is spirited as one half of a honeymooning couple; as her husband, who has only about three or four lines, Spencer Moses is wooden. Lee Lampard is aloof as Katherine, a woman waiting for her young son (Adam Carver) to come out of the infirmary at his nearby boarding school. She is so tightly wrapped, so constrained and guarded, that we never get a sense of her soul. Lampard is a solid and often convincing actor, but there seems to be some thin membranous barrier between her and the deep emotional core of the character. John Kenton Shull is more expansive and emotionally available as an actor. He’s quite engaging as John, a hail-fellow womanizer who harbors his own anguish and secrets. So, they come together, and then, just when you think something might happen, they retreat to their own lives. Everything is back the way it was, as if a blanket of December snow had covered over everything that had been and gone before. Not a very satisfying evening of theater, but a nice outing for a few actors and the local directing debut of actor William Lawrence Kerr, recently named the artistic director of Actor’s Asylum. He’s added some nice touches, some imaginative stage business. It’ll be interesting to see him expand the repertoire of the theater to produce less obscure and more substantial work.
“Silent Night, Lonely Night” continues through January 4, at the Actor’s Asylum near San Diego State; 619-465-3742.
©2003 Patté Productions Inc.