Connie and Ollie Get It On at The Cell
By Stephanie Hainsfurther
Briskly and cunningly directed by FUSION Co-Founder Jacqueline Reid, Lady Chatterley’s Lover the play offers up all of the fruits of the novel (sex) and few of the pits (class divisions, post-industrialism, man v. nature). This Book-It* version, adapted by Mary Machala and John Vreeke, gets straight to the point: Clifford Chatterley, paralyzed in the war, cannot have sex with his lovely bride of six months yet wants an heir. He gives his sexually frustrated wife “permission” to have an affair (what fun is that?) for the sole purpose of producing one. But Lady Constance has laid eyes on their gameskeeper Mellors and the rest is obscenity-trial history.
From the moment they hit the stage, the six cast members make it look easy. Rhiannon Frazier as Lady Chatterley holds the center with grace, wit, and a keen understanding of her dilemma. She keeps her pain close and only her sister Hilda (Wendy Leverenz Barker, perfectly) seems to understand its depths. Their father Sir Malcolm is an empty suit, but actor Paul Blott looks very good in it. James Louis Wagner as Oliver Mellors is opaque and interesting until he reveals himself to be a tender lover and forward-thinking man. Because of Wagner’s performance, the revealing of Mellors’s character is subtle and satisfying. He makes a fine leading man.
The secondary couple in the story are as strongly played as the title characters. In what could have been the utterly thankless role of Clifford Chatterley, Michael Samuel Kaplan brings everything that man is and could be to his portrayal of Clifford’s own frustrations, so different from those of his wife. Laurie Thomas as a sly Mrs. Bolton becomes Clifford’s helper—and surrogate mother-lover. Thomas plays her part with post-Freudian zeal. An actor I know once told me that a performance should be “like a wild dog on a leash.” Every time I see Thomas on FUSION’s stage, that description applies. Mrs. Bolton resents the leash but she respects the leash.
The life of the body is paramount to the relationship between Lady C and her servant. So how do we show Connie and Oliver having sex on stage? At first we leave them fully clothed, which seems somewhat furtive and rushed, and dirtier than thou. When the lovers decide to look at each other fully naked, it’s not just a quick roll in the hay. I’ve seen flashes of nudity on stage (Equus and Killer Joe come to mind) but never an extended nude scene as the actors frolic in the rain and have meaningful conversations. Frazier and Wagner are brave and beautiful actors. Don’t miss them.
—Stephanie Hainsfurther is the publisher of Elbow Room Magazine.
LAST WEEKEND at The Cell. Tickets:or (505) 766-9412
* Book-It Repertory Theatre makes great literature into plays to encourage the public’s enjoyment of both ().