Sitting up in the eaves of Studio 54 for a matinee performance of Noel Coward’s Brief Encounter, one word kept bubbling up inside my mind: charming. It just kept coming back to the surface. Everything was charming.
Brief Encounter isn’t the smartest thing I’ve ever seen. Or the sharpest. It’s not the most thought provoking. Every once in a while things happen that are a bit confusing (wait…why are we all pretending we’re being blown away by another gust of wind right now?). But it’s beautiful, witty and fun. It is charming.
In this tale of two people—both already married—who fall in love over a series of (wait for it…) brief encounters, there are very few questions at all. In fact, the audience knows how things will end before they even begin. The real joy of this show is in how the story is told.
Emma Rice’s production makes wonderful use of the expansive Studio 54 stage by turning the whole thing into a dynamic canvas of sorts. And unlike other recent shows where multi-media screens seemed to interrupt the experience of live theater—at Sondheim on Sondheim it felt as if we were watching a PBS special broadcast telethon—here their play within a play quality only enhances the dreamy nature of the show. The addition of Mr. Coward’s songs is also a real treat, and Damon Daunno’s plaintive “Go Slowly Johnny” is a particular highlight.
If you’re looking for a challenge, for something that will make you think and feel and ask questions, Brief Encounter isn’t the show for you. But it is a beautiful, charming jewel box of a tale, and you could do much worse for entertainment on your Saturday afternoon (or any afternoon or evening, at that).
Photo: Joan Marcus