Milwaukee Rep, "Ten Chimneys"
On Wednesday evening the 14th, we went to the Powerhouse Theatre to see the Milwaukee Repertory Theatre's production of "Ten Chimneys," the new play by Jeffrey Hatcher, which is set at the country estate of Alfred Lunt and Lynne Fontanne. Lunt and Fontanne were the doyen and doyenne of American theatre from the 1920's through their retirement in 1960. From the time that the couple established their summer retreats in rural Genessee Depot, Wisconsin, their home was a meeting place for the great of the theatre to meet, relax, and plan upcoming season's campaigns.
The play is based upon a factual timeline: it is fact that, in 1938, the Lunts prepared and presented Anton Chekov's The Seagull.
They had assembled a company which included Sydney Greenstreet, and Uta Hagen in her first Broadway role. The tensions in the play come from two sources. One is the uneasy triangle of Lunt, Fontanne, and Hagen, and the other is the stress between Lunt and Fontanne and Lunt's narcissistic mother, and his half-siblings who may have rightly felt put-upon by being impressed into duty as caretakers for the estate.
It must be taken into account that, while the play is hung on a framework of fact, the actual action is fiction. it is, for example fact that Lunt's mother was extremely irresponsible about money, but, as far as I know any suggestion that Mrs. Soderstrom tried to break up Lunt's marriage to Fontanne is fiction. There's no historical suggestion that there was in fact any flirtation or more between Hagen and Lunt--the play is a "might-have-been" scenario.
Given that, it's very enjoyable. The plot of the play is cleverly wrapped around that of The Seagull,
with some very amusing bits as in those in which the various cast members declare what they think that Chekov's play is about--with no two opinions being remotely alike. Having only ever seen one very bad print of The Guardsman,
Lunt and Fontanne's lone movie, I had to somewhat reserve judgment as to the veracity of the portrayal of the two principals, but found them generally reasonable and believable. Grant Goodman was very good and quite engaging as Lunt, and played well with Wendi Weber as Fontanne, Leah Karpei as Hagen, and Linda Stephens as his mother.
I thought Wendi Weber as Fontanne overdid the theatricality of her delivery a bit. Although it is established in the play that for Lunt and Fontanne the stage is
real life, and that consequently they are in a sense, "always on," I really didn't think that every line she spoke should have been delivered as though she were in a Coward comedy. On the other hand, Robert Breuler, while giving an affecting performance as Sydney Greenstreet undercooked his part a bit, in my opinion. We never heard a bit of the famous Greenstreet unctiousness, although there were points at which it could have appeared.
On the family side, very nice performances by Linda Stephens as Hattie Sederholm, whom one could easily believe was a scene-stealer in life; Jenny McKnight as half-sister Louise Green, who has a more-or-less permanent mad on; and Nicholas Harazin as Carl Sederholm, Lunt's half-brother who is bent on escaping from his rustication.
The Rep tech staff did a marvellous job on the set, which represented the outside and inside of "The Studio," a building on the estate used for rehearsing, with near-photographic accuracy.
This was a very entertaining and enjoyable evening at the theatre.
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