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Wednesday, Aug. 11, 2010

American Players Theatre’s ‘Circle’ Shaped By Wit, Heart

Theater Review

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Wit and heart combine seamlessly in The Circle, W. Somerset Maugham’s comedy of manners that opened Saturday at American Players Theatre. A strong emotional streak threads its way through the wry observations and witty bon mots peppering the 1921 play about station, honor and infidelity. But the true spice in the pudding comes from stellar performances by APT veterans embodying the notion that wisdom gained through painful experience offers a better antidote to human foibles than does the unbridled passion of youth.

Elizabeth Cheney (Susan Shunk), wife of parliamentary up-and-comer Arnold Champion-Cheney (Paul Hurley), invites mother-in-law Lady Kitty (Tracy Michelle Arnold) and her paramour Lord Porteous (James Ridge) to their palatial country home in Dorset, England, to better understand how age and unfettered love have affected the former beauty.

Lady Kitty left her husband, Clive Champion-Cheney (Brian Mani), 30 years earlier to take up with Porteous, effectively destroying the friendship and political careers of both men. However, the elder Champion-Cheney arrives for an unexpected visit, putting the three former friends and lovers together once again in a triangle that mirrors Elizabeth’s conflicted emotions over her husband and Teddy Lutton (Marcus Truschinski), another guest at the house.

Arnold, Mani and Ridge all deliver outstanding performances, with Ridge stealing most scenes with his surly attitude and phlegmy retorts. Mani once again plays the patrician, a character type at which he excels, and Arnold runs a rich range of emotions from vanity to delight to despair. In the end, it is a wiser love that does indeed conquer all.

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