I don’t know how “the Lunts” – the most revered married stars of the Broadway stage ever, Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne – would feel about my reaction to Ten Chimneys, playwright Jeffrey Hatcher’s mostly enjoyable comedy set at their Wisconsin estate of the same name. I liked it better when it was closer to the Noël Coward comedies or continental romances that were their most acclaimed success, and liked it a good deal less when Hatcher decided to imitate Anton Chekhov’s The Seagull. The Lunts, you see, were perfectly good classical actors and would like to have been known as such – unfortunately that’s not how their adoring public wanted to see them.
Hatcher’s Chekhovian ambitions arise because the play peers into the backstage lives of the couple during the rehearsal process for a 1938 production of Chekhov’s The Seagull, on their summer retreat. Hatcher rather tediously invents a love triangle involving the Lunts and the young Uta Hagen, which he models on scenes from Chekhov’s play. It’s a conceit that sounds good on paper but doesn’t create any real dramatic traction – the play is much stronger and engaging when it is a simple backstage comedy in the style of Stage Door, or concerns itself with Alfred’s somewhat repressed homosexual leanings.
In all of the play’s various phases, director Dan Wackerman has gotten behind Hatcher 100% – when the writing is light Wackerman goes with that, when it’s heavy he goes that way. While basically an honorable and intelligent approach, this has the unfortunate (and I’m guessing unintentional) effect of highlighting the weakness of the more Chekhov-inspired scenes.
Obviously I think Ten Chimneys is far from perfect. However, if you are a fan of the legend of the Lunts – as I am – or simply of backstage comedy in general, there is actually plenty to enjoy here.
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For more reviews and interviews by Jonathan Warman, see dramaqueennyc.com.
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Theatre Review: “Ten Chimneys”
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