Review by Tulis McCall
(12 Nov 2010)
John Osborne and Anthony Creighton wrote this play in 1953, the same year that the Rosenbergs were executed, the Korean War ended and Joseph McCarthy was rockin’ and rollin’. It was a time of fear and repression in this country. Enemies of the state were assumed to be under any rock you tripped over. Aberration of any sort was frowned on and the only safe thing to be was male, white and a patriot. John Osborne was two out of three.
This is the story of the Constant family (not a joke) who live in Langley Springs. This town is given no location, but is supposed to be somewhere south of the Mason Dixon to judge by the smidgeon of accents that float through the performances. This family is in semi-mourning for a son lost in the Korean War and has an eye out for anything that might threaten the safety of their country or family. They are good loyal Americans and that is that. So when a local man is suspected of being a homosexual who had designs on the dead son and is now setting his sights on the remaining son, the matriarch of the family launches into action. Were the play set 2010 this would be a great story. Set in 1953 it is off the charts. The show was censored and Edited by the Lord Chamberlain who is credited with its failure. The only known copy of the original text turned up in 2008 as part of the Chamberlain’s archive. The discovery was celebrated and a production followed.
When Osborne’s Look Back in Anger was produced in 1956 it shook the London theatre world down to its roots because of its accurate portrayal of a London marriage going to Hell in a hand-basket. Osborne was labeled an angry young man, and became an icon.
This play, Personal Enemy, would therefore be expected to show some signs of Osborne’s brilliance. It does show some signs, i.e. the subject matter itself, but they are few and faint. The text is a disappointment in the extreme. The dialogue is cumbersome and nearly falls into parody, sounding more like something from the writers of The Donna Reed Show or Father Knows Best. The set is a hodge-podge of furniture, painted scrim, sandbags, book shelves and a small table with a red (get it?) telephone. News flash – there were no red telephones in 1953. The actors are forced to nearly contort themselves getting in and out of the Constant home. The costumes are stereotypical with the women in shirtwaist dresses and the suspected gay man in a bow tie with stylized spectator shoes that make him look more like a clown than a human being. The women’s hair is not tended to properly and is therefore a distraction. And finally there is the acting, which is one dimensional and lacking depth of any sort. Mr Aula’s choices in shaping this production seem to have been made on the fly. It is as though they ran out of time in the rehearsal process and the elements were slapped together with the intention that things would get straightened out as time passed. They didn’t.
From start to finish, this production is two and a half hours of disappointment.