Stageworks/Hudson: 'Tomorrow in the Battle' A worthy drama makes comeback
HUDSON, N.Y. -- British playwright Kieron Barry’s "Tomorrow in the Battle" -- which is being revived in an intermittently satisfying production at Stageworks/Hudson, where it had a richly rewarding world premiere two years ago -- begins with an anecdote; a recollection of a youthful incident in which a young man accepts a challenge to walk the length of a fog-enshrouded eight-inch wide bridge railing 100 feet above the water. It’s no idly told story, rather it is emblematic of Barry’s three characters whose lives each balance precariously on the edge.
The anecdote is told by Simon (Christopher Kelly), a prominent heart surgeon who plays life by the rules, until, that is, he meets, quite by chance, an unsettlingly attractive woman named Jennifer (Olivia Gilliatt) one night at the opera.
Where Simon is all about staying within his comfort zone, Jennifer, a vibrantly sexual woman who is the associate of a young financial whiz-kid who has taken the financial world by storm, dares. It is not long before she and Simon plunge into a torrid affair which liberates Simon sexually to the point at which he loses sight of everything else, especially his wife, Anna. Jennifer and alcohol become his obsessions at a time when Anna needs his counsel most and he is preparing to transplant a heart into a 10-year-old boy.
Anna (a luminous Danielle Skraastad, who played Jennifer in Stageworks’ 2012 production) is caught in two dilemmas of her own -- one personal, one professional. A bright, alert, thoroughly professional civil servant in Britain’s Ministry of Defense, Anna stumbles across a serious problem with a newly purchased vital component for Britain’s missile defense system. She tells her boss who, in response, urges her to lie when she testifies before a Parliament budget committee. The consequences of telling the truth, Anna instinctively knows, would be ruinous for her. On a personal front, Anna, oblivious to her husband’s affair, is increasingly obsessed by vivid sexual fantasies involving Simon’s good friend and colleague, Matthew.
Lies build upon lies. The stakes increase as misjudgment leads to more misjudgment. Trust becomes the first casualty as chance, the universe, intervenes with sudden breathstopping effect.
"Tomorrow in the Battle" is structured as a series of interlocking revealing narratives that connect with forceful impact. If nothing else, "Tomorrow in the Battle" is remarkable for its masterly construction, its provocative insights into human nature and Barry’s skill at fashioning a play rich in ideas from the fabric of human behavior.
Stageworks/Hudson’s executive artistic director Laura Margolis -- who directed the world premiere -- has taken a big risk bringing this worthy play back so soon after having delivered an impeccably played production only two years ago. Would that the result this time around were as fully satisfying.
This treatment -- with two-thirds new cast -- feels fragmented, disconnected. The chemistry among these three is sporadic.
Kelly in particular skirts the edge in a performance that is more descriptive than involved or involving. The length and depth of Simon’s journey is more hinted at than shown.
Gilliatt’s Jennifer is young and impetuous. Jennifer’s job is to secure clients for her boss and you can see just how that might work. At the same time, Jennifer’s naivete and recklessness sets her up for a chain of events in New York that will alter her life in ways she cannot even begin to imagine.
Gilliatt’s timing is erratic, impatient, rushed; her character’s objectives vaguely defined.
Skraastad brings the same savvy and intelligence she brought to the role of Jennifer two years ago to Anna this time around. Among other admirable qualities on stage, Skraastad wears clarity and subtlety like well-tailored clothing. She finds and mines layers of complexity in Anna that set her up for, at the very least, disappointment. The compromises and disappointments she endures over the course of the play pale by comparison to the undeserved reckoning that awaits her after the play’s stunning ending; a reckoning devoutly not to be wished.
TOMORROW IN THE BATTLE by Kieron Barry. Directed by Laura Margolis; costume design, Maureen Schell; lighting design, Deena Pewtherer; scenic design, Randall Parsons; compoer / sound design, Jeffrey Lependorf. Through Sunday. Eves.: 7:30 Thu.; 8 Fri., Sat. Mats.: 2 Sat., Sun. Stageworks/Hudson, 41-A Cross St., Hudson, N.Y. Tickets: $24, $29. (518) 822-9667; stageworkshudson.org. 1 hour 30 minutes
Simon Christopher Kelly
Anna Danielle Skraastad
Jennifer Olivia Gilliatt