“Loneliness is a terrible thing, don’t you agree.” That sentiment is expressed by one of the lonely characters in British playwright Terence Rattigan’s Separate Tables, a collection of two one-act plays set at the Beauregard Hotel in Bournemouth, England, 90 miles southwest of London. The plays examine people driven by loneliness into desperate situations. The leading roles in both acts were written to be played by the same actors. The plays premiered in London in 1954 and starred Margaret Leighton and Eric Portman. When the show transferred to Broadway, Leighton was awarded the Tony Award. For the 1958 film version Rattigan and co-screenwriter John Gay combined the plays into one complete story with different actors playing the four leading roles. The film was nominated for 7 Oscars including Best Picture, winning 2 for the performances by David Niven and Wendy Hiller. Director John Schlesinger returned the plays to their one act versions and the leading roles to the same two actors, Julie Christie and Alan Bates, for a 1983 cable TV version. Theatre 40 in Beverly Hills has currently mounted the two one-acts in a very solid and moving production, deftly guided by the steady hand of veteran director Jules Aaron.
“Table by the Window” involves Martin (Adrian Neil), a disgraced former politician, now a left-wing journalist and alcoholic, whose ex-wife Ann (Susan Priver) has tracked him down to Bournemouth after her second marriage has ended in divorce. Martin served time in prison for physically attacking his wife and a police officer. Ann seems drawn to abusive men as she had the same situation with her second husband. Martin and Ann seem to hate each other and yet are still fiercely attracted to each other. It’s been 8 years since they divorced but their passion has not cooled. Caught in the middle is the attractive, compassionate and insightful hotel manager, Miss Cooper (Diana Angelina). Her relationship with Martin doesn’t have the same flaming ardor but it is meaningful for her.
“Table Number Seven” is set 18 months later and contains some of the same minor characters as the first act. It’s the story of Major Pollack (David Hunt Stafford), a pompous braggart attempting to hide a nasty secret. He unsuccessfully tries to steal the newspaper of the busybody dowager Mrs. Railton-Bell (Mona Lee Wylde) to cover up his recent arrest and guilty plea in a nearby court. It seems the Major was caught bumping elbows with at least a half dozen women in a darkened movie theatre. Mrs. Railton-Bell is outraged at this “disgusting” behavior and determined to gather support from her fellow regular hotel mates and have the major kicked out. Sides are drawn and the result is in doubt for a while. Coming to the Major’s defense is the understanding Miss Cooper and a young married pre-med student (Caleb Slavens). Mrs. Railton-Bell’s 33 year old spinster daughter Sybil (Roslyn Cohn) is caught in the middle of the battle here. Shy and inexperienced to the ways of the world, Sybil has formed a kinship with the Major. Although she is shocked and upset by his revelations, she still hopes to maintain her friendship with the Major whom she discovers is just as lonely and uncomfortable making friends as she is.
The 1950s were a very different time from today but that world is wonderfully recreated by director Aaron and his talented cast. Rattigan’s writing is slow, gracious, very civilized and involving. He has created some wonderful characters and this cast artfully brings them to life, imperfections and all. Michele Young’s costumes help set the proper period mood and Jeff G. Rack’s amazing turntable set is a work of art. Separate Tables is rarely produced so if you enjoy good solid old-fashioned theatre, don’t miss this rare treat.
Theatre 40, 241 S. Moreno Dr. in Bevery Hills. Ends June 18. www.theatre40.org.