Ten Chimneys

  • Our critic's rating:
    Date:
    October 1, 2012
    Review by:
    Tulis McCall

    (Review by Tulis McCall)

    Ten Chimneys was the Wisconsin summer home of Alfred Lunt and Lynne Fontanne. Those of you of a certain age will know that this duo was a theatrical icon. They appeared together in over 24 plays over 4 decades. And oh yeah, a theatre was named after them.

    That explains the title of this play. I cannot explain the rest.

    As with many, many, many historical plays, this one swans down the path of “never mind the story” and ends up nowhere. The pretext, and that is all it is, is that everyone is gathering to begin rehearsals for Uncle Vanya. Alfred (Byron Jennings) and Lynn (Carolyn McCormick) are eagerly awaiting the arrival of Sydney Greenstreet (Michael McCarty) with Alfred’s mother Hattie (Lucy Martin) and sister Louise (Charlotte Booker) who is a sort of manager of Chimneys. The remaining family member Carl (John Wernke) is the acting chauffer. The family that rents together tents together. When Alfred and Lynne are away, his family lives at Ten Chimneys and there appears to be a bit of friction when he and Lynne swoop into town.

    The final ingredient is Uta Hagan – also an icon – (Julia Bray) who arrives on the scene eager to please both onstage and off. So blatant is this plot line that we can be glad Ms. Hagan is no longer around to see it.

    Everyone goes to and fro in the first act, with the final moment a clinch between Alfred and Uta. Gadzooks.

    In the second act, nothing happens - as in nothing. We get the history of the house, hints Alfred’s bisexuality because of an old lover, Sydney Greenstreet’s wife’s health, Uta Hagen’s mother’s demise, the special place where recalcitrant authors would be sent for time outs, how Uta Hagen ended up leaving the company, returning and then leaving again – in other words it is a series of iconic facts strung together to try and make a story. But it doesn’t.

    And because it doesn’t, these actors literally wander the stage for most of the first act and for the entirety of the second. Dan Wackerman’s direction does little to help them. To top it off the play closes with a downstage monologue of Uta Hagen that nearly make a person wince because it is sophomoric – a quality that Ms. Hagen never appeared to possess. And when she is reunited with Ms. Fontanne, Hagen has to say: For you, the stage is real and the rest is just waiting to come on. I should have known that for me to be on stage with Mr. Lunt is the same as being with him in your bed.

    This is followed by some iconic revelations about Hagen’s personal life that have nothing to do with anything. Well, at least that part is consistent with the rest of the play.

    It all ends up a soggy affair, and what is so surprising, as it always is, is how this ever made it to any stage anywhere? Is our desire to see our heroes so stunted that we will accept anything that resembles the truth? Apparently! It happens over and over again.

    The only good bits, and they are quite good, are the discussions about character development that weave in and out of the play. Mr. Hatcher’s dialogue in these scenes is direct and engaging. In creating these characters, however, he failed to take his own advice.

    Oh, for an author who can combine history with a rollicking great story line!

    "More fun when it’s dishing bits of stage lore than when the characters are huffing and puffing over misalliances and infatuations."
    Charles Isherwood for New York Times

    "By-the-numbers but enjoyable comedy."
    Joe Dziemianowicz for New York Daily News

    "Despite all the effort involved, “Ten Chimneys” contains more smoke than fire.”
    Frank Scheck for New York Post

    "A must-visit."
    Robert Windeler for Back Stage

    "A thin, pasteboard affair festooned with occasionally arch comic dialogue."
    Michael Sommers for Newsroom Jersey

    External links to full reviews from popular press...

    New York Times - New York Daily News - New York Post - Back Stage - Newsroom Jersey