The role of Susan Traherne in Plenty is all juice, and Rachel Weisz squeezes it like mad. David Hare’s 1978 play traces Susan’s downward spiral from her late teenage years—when she feels thrillingly alive as a courier for British intelligence in Nazi-occupied France—to a pathetic flophouse tryst two decades later. Along the way, she marries Raymond Brock (Corey Stoll), a diplomat, but bristles at the rot inside his protocols, and destroys his career with outrageous scenes. A Hedda Gabler for the postwar boom era, Susan is onstage for nearly the entire play, increasingly miserable and manipulative, the baleful eye of the hurricane she brings everywhere she goes.
Weisz is an absorbing and intelligent actor, and she traces Susan’s descent into mental illness with persuasive bitterness and glamour. Yet despite her fine work, Plenty seems remote. Hare’s play suggests that Susan’s spiral may reflect the moral corruption of prosperity and the stifling dullness of English life after wartime, especially for women who have tasted liberation. But it was a historical play even in 1978, and despite some powerful sequences—including an electrically awkward Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?-ish party scene—its urgency is at risk of losing force with the passage of time.
That risk, alas, is magnified by David Leveaux’s tastefully nebulous revival at the Public. The grey walls and minimal decoration of Mike Britton’s sleekly generic set, in keeping with Leveaux’s ’90s-hotel-lobby aesthetic, do little to flesh out the various worlds that Susan inhabits, which is a problem in a play that is continually asking us to catch up with her as it moves around in time. It’s confusing in a faintly shabby-genteel way—not for us the vulgarity of a realistic set!—but mainly it’s bland. Most of the creditable supporting performances fall into a similar trap; aside from the splendid Byron Jennings as Brock’s timeworn superior in the Foreign Service, they lack texture. The plenitude of Hare’s play is not well served by this production’s postures of austerity.
Public Theater (Off Broadway). By David Hare. Directed by David Leveaux. With Rachel Weisz, Corey Stoll, Emily Bergl, Byron Jennings. Running time: 2hrs 30mins. One intermission. Click here for full ticket and venue information.
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