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Monday, Sept. 5, 2011

Milwaukee Rep's Pleasant, Light 'Ten Chimneys'

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Loosely but charmingly directed by Joseph Hanreddy, the Milwaukee Rep's Midwest premiere of Jeffrey Hatcher's pleasant comedy Ten Chimneys goes down as smoothly as a cold drink on a warm summer's night—but with little more substance.

As a sentimental look at stage legends Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne, the play could have used the cutting edge of their friend Noel Coward, whose clever witticisms would have fit well as a character in this play that revolves around a rehearsal of Chekhov's The Seagull at the Lunt homestead at Genesee Depot. Instead, highly unlikely performances by Leah Karpel as Uta Hagen and a totally unconvincing impersonation of the inimitable screen legend Sydney Greenstreet (both characters playing supporting roles in the Chekhov play) seem oddly out of tune.

Little effort is made to connect Chekov's subtext with the intent of a play reflecting the appeal of the Lunts, leaving the audience with a pleasant but ultimately puzzling experience. The text implies their great love was for the stage rather than for each other. Grant Goodman as Alfred Lunt adds charm to the evening with his unassuming, often underplayed performance. Wendi Weber opts for dignified reticence as Lynn Fontanne, but she cannot approximate the arch sophistication and grandiose gesture that so typified the great stage actresses of the 1930s and '40s. The true chemistry between the Lunts is rarely explored, while Alfred represses his bisexuality in too many romantic “rehearsals” with Uta Hagen. Linda Stephens almost steals the show as Alfred's cynical mother, adding some necessary sarcasm.

There are laughs aplenty despite some dull stretches. But it is the sentimental notion of the Lunts as locals that carries the day, providing a pleasant evening as long as one does not look too closely.

The Milwaukee Rep's production of Ten Chimneys continues through Sept. 25. For ticket information, call 414-224-9490.