Plano — In the United Kingdom, Home Counties are the counties surrounding the city of London. By 1995 there appear to have been approximately 11 of these counties, depending upon how one breaks down the communities. As a general statement, the Home Counties are among the most prosperous regions in the United Kingdom, primary and secondary homes to the financially successful. The Driscolls of N.J. Crisp’s Dangerous Obsession live in the Home Counties.
Their house has a beautiful and comfortable conservatory (sunroom or atrium in America) with French style doors that open out onto the grounds revealing a tiled walkway and beautiful landscaping. Or at least this is the view designed by Darryl Clement for Theatre Britain’s production which has been deftly directed by Cynthia Hestand. The doors are flanked by tall windows, each with a set of transom windows, one of which is opened during the action. The seating is what one might expect for a sunroom, and there is a fully stocked island bar stage right. Lovely. It is in this conservatory that the action takes place on a hot summer afternoon in 1995.
We meet Sally Driscoll (Stacy Ann Strang) as she reenters the conservatory after having spent time outside sunbathing. She is preparing a drink at the bar but is interrupted by John Barrett (Walt Threlkeld) who has dropped by unexpectedly in hopes of talking with her husband, Mark Driscoll (Robert San Juan). Mark is not home yet. Sally is wary because she does not recognize Barrett. He seems polite but when asked to leave and return later, he resists doing so. Thus within the first few minutes of the play, the tension has been established, meeting one of the requirements for a successful psychological thriller.
Now, to talk about a thriller without giving anything away. Does Sally have reason for her uneasiness? Yes. Does Mark eventually come home? Yes. Is the stranger, Barrett, still in the home when Mark arrives? Yes. Are there deceit, treachery, and scandal in this tale? Yes, yes, and oh yes. Does the audience receive any information in advance of the characters? No. Well, there is one moment very early on when Barrett does something in secret that confirms for the audience that Sally should have paid attention to her intuition. Other than that, the audience is on the ride to discovery with the characters.
For this story to succeed, the actors must manage their psychological gestures, find the right balance, and avoid exaggeration which can lead to indicating. Strang is very strong and controlled in this area, and her Sally is believable. She is the first character the audience meets, and the character that spends the most time onstage, so her relationship with the audience must be honest. It is with Barrett that the pace of the plot rests. Threlkeld’s intentioned and gestural consistency is sound but he can accelerate the pace a bit without jeopardy. San Juan has a roller-coaster of emotions to manage as Mark in this piece, which is a little dicey to accomplish without predictability. He struggles to control that energy. However, he can lie really well in character when necessary. And Mark Driscoll believes it is necessary.
Aaron Fryklund’s original music is like a subliminal character with its harmonic flirtatiousness. It is nice when the elements—technical, direction and actors’ performances, click.
This is an excellent script that has been successfully adapted into a screenplay, but it should really be seen onstage, within the type of intimacy that only theater can provide. Theatre Britain is providing that opportunity and there should not be any empty seats in the house.