The Lady and the Clarinet, written by Pulitzer-winning playwright Michael Cristofer, is the work of SUDS newcomer Lucinda Vitek, who gives us a fresh, slightly condensed story of a woman’s inability to find ‘something more’ in her romantic relationships. Coinciding with the opening week of the SUDS major, the show seemed like a chance to do something a little new with a relatively youthful cast while prying eyes were directed elsewhere.
The play opens to a New York apartment, where female lead, Luba, is preparing for a dinner-date at home. As her date becomes increasingly late, Luba begins to confide in the clarinet player, who she has hired for the occasion, as to her disastrous experiences with three male lovers. Madeleine Miller brings us a sassy and irreverent Luba, who has an impressive level of command from the opening scene of the play.
Enter Ryan Knight as Paul, 16-year-old Luba’s extremely anxious first lover. As always, Knight brings a palpable awkwardness on to the stage, ensuring that Luba’s first sexual encounter is both hilarious and painful to watch. Miller wields an entertaining authority over Knight, perfectly establishing the warped dynamics of their relationship. The first flash-back did well in tempering the humour of the situation with a real sense of poignancy.
Dominic Barlow conveyed well the distant and confused nature of second lover Jack, though the interactions between him and Miller never really came to fruition. Williams-Brooks as George, while funny, was difficult to relate to. I found it hard to connect with most of these characters. This seems to have been a fault with the script more than anything else. Cristofer seems oblivious to the way in which his reduction of people into single traits and personality types divests them of any human interest or believability. As a result, there seemed to be something missing beyond the immediate humour of the play. This was evident in the funnier moments of the performance, where the actors often slipped into recitation in the anticipation and delivery of ‘punch lines’.
The set design provided a fantastic setting, and the lighting was particularly impressive in its capacity to delineate time and place. Vitek showed a lot of promise in her directorial debut; forming the experiences of Luba into a unified, and funny whole. At times, however, I felt as though she could have gotten more out of the actors; particularly the dynamics between Miller and Katrina Todd as the clarinettist. The latter could have been better deployed to record the emotional climate of the play, and to help facilitate the audience’s emotional response to it.
While I left wanting something more, overall the play was highly enjoyable, and commendable in its willingness to bring something new to the stage.