Ask any actor or stage technician and they'll probably tell you that the real drama of the theatre occurs backstage and not onstage where the audience can see it. This simple fact is the premise behind TEN CHIMNEYS, currently running now through February 5th at Cleveland Play House's new Second Stage.
Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne are a couple "universally regarded as the greatest acting team in the history of the English speaking theatre," at least according to the epitaph on their graves. Joined at their large Wisconsin estate by family and fellow actors, they set out to rehearse their latest production – Chekov's "The Seagull" – when off-stage antics start to mirror the onstage plot.
Donald Carrier and Jordan Baker shine as Lunt and Fontanne. Their rapport together is top-notch, best on display during a scene filled with complicated, fast-paced dialogue from "The Seagull." They repeatedly run their lines over and over correcting mistakes and miscues yet the scene never drags and is filled with unexpected humor. This is a perfect example of how the Lunts worked – they would pick apart a script and constantly work to improve their performances up until opening night and sometimes beyond. Carrier and Baker also do an excellent job at portraying the understanding that develops between two people in a long-standing relationship. Everything may not be perfect all the time, but Lunt and Fontanne are forever loyal to each other.
Real-life actors Uta Hagen and Sydney Greenstreet are brought to life by Kelli Ruttle and Michael McCarty. Ruttle is the bright-eyed young Hagen, intent on learning everything she can from the legendary Alfred Lunt. Their relationship grows and blossoms throughout the play, eventually forming a love triangle with Lynn Fontanne. McCarty is the veteran Greenstreet. Supplying comedic moments throughout the first act, his story takes a poignant turn in the second.
Acclaimed actress Mariette Hartley steals almost every scene she's in. Embodying the character of Lunt's mother, Hattie Sederholm, she delivers sharp-witted sarcasm whenever possible. Rounding out the cast are Gail Rastorfer as the often-overlooked Louise and Jeremy Kendall as Carl Sederholm.
Another star of the show is the newly opened Second Stage. The completely flexible performance space is only one of three similar stages in the country. The theatre can be made to fit the show rather than the show being made to fit the theatre. This includes seating, scenery fly space and trap doors in the floor. For TEN CHIMNEYS, it's set up for arena seating, meaning the audience completely surrounds the stage. In fact, patrons sitting on the floor are mere feet from the actors. With only seven rows of seats, Second Stage is an intimate theatre experience for everyone and allows the cast to perform without microphones.
TEN CHIMNEYS continues it's run through February 5th, with tickets range from $49 to $69 for adults. Purchase tickets online at www.clevelandplayhouse.com or through the PlayhouseSquare box office at 216.241.6000. Second Stage is located in the Allen Theatre complex on Euclid Avenue in downtown Cleveland.
Photo Credit: Donald Carrier and Jordan Baker. Photo by Roger Mastroianni.