a kate west review
written by Joanna Murray-Smith & directed by Andrew J. Robinson
at the Matrix Theatre Company,
running Thursdays – Sundays, August 26 –
contact (323) 852-1445 or www.matrixtheatre.com; firstname.lastname@example.org
Marriage is tough. Especially after 32 years. No one knows that better than Honour (Susan Sullivan), whose husband abruptly leaves her, with no obvious warning (externally anyway), in the emotionally wrenching “Honour”, now playing at the Matrix Theatre Company. Robert Foxworth is Gus (alternating with Granville Van Dusen), a published author and intellectual, who decides to change his life completely after an interview with a beautiful, young aspiring writer, Claudia (Kirsten Potter). Like many men, he suffers a mid-life crisis, believing that if he exchanges one woman for another (and a younger model at that) he will find youth again. He tells himself that he is being true to his best self, and that it was a long time coming, but he is really childishly attempting to see himself more clearly through another’s eyes (something he accuses his wife of doing). “There were signs” he tells Honour, in order to justify his betrayal, and it is just unfortunate that she did not see them before as he does not responsible for any further explanation. And that’s that.
Honour bears the brunt of the news with restrained stoicism, coupled with the occasional heartbroken outburst. Her strong sense of duty caused her to remain loyal to her husband throughout all those years, perhaps sacrificing her own deepest potential. She too is a published writer, although her husband’s work always took precedence. Surprisingly, both her daughter Sophie (Becky Wahlstrom) and the “other woman”, Claudia, chide her for losing herself in her marriage. They both want to idolize her but are frustrated by her apparent lack of identity.
Director Andrew J. Robinson skillfully leads his actors to the strong performances that speak to our own private heartaches. Susan Sullivan is wonderful as the wounded Honour, who may seem a victim but who is ultimately true to her own convictions. Robert Foxworth is chilling as the unfeeling husband who seeks passion in another woman. He consumes the energy of everyone around him and then discards them when they are used up. His admiration for Claudia (played fiercely by Kirsten Potter) as a seemingly independent intellectual equal is misguided as neither of them truly understands what love really is. And what will happen when he tires of her as well? Becky Wahlstrom is also convincing as the confused, lost Sophie, caught between exasperation at her mother and resentment toward her father. Everyone aspires to happiness but do not always know how to achieve it.
In expressing this angst, playwright Joanna Murray-Smith’s dialogue reflects that of a writer’s family and not the way in which most of us would normally speak. Love is poetic, however, so this style works for the piece, enhancing the nobility of the messages of sacrifice and commitment. The main theme of the play is the question of honor – which is more honorable, remaining loyal to duty and giving yourself over to the inevitable compromises of love or making yourself your first priority? All of the characters struggle with this dilemma and in the end, Honour appears the strongest. Not only does she end up with the clearest sense of self but also the ability to survive, in spite of initially resisting change in her established world. She did not choose to live alone, but she may just triumph over all, fully living up to her name. Emotionally draining, the play encompasses sorrow and disillusionment and above all, the difficulties of human relationships. And thus we recognize the truth in ourselves and the inevitability of the anguish of love.
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