My Night with Reg – Alice Livingstone brings Eric Rohmer to the stage. (Theatre Review)
My Night With Reg
New Theatre 5 Feb to 9 March.
Images: Bob Seary
An unnamed French Film followed by a housewarming dinner party where guests arrive and depart randomly forms the centerpiece of Kevin Elyot’s gently beautiful 1994 play My Night With Reg. The referenced French film with “lots of talking” is obviously My Night at Maud’s. Kevin Elyot very clearly plays with the themes of the famous film which are primarily chance, fate, the present and the past with important and stark differences. Lovers interdict the consummation of illicit love affairs in My Night at Maud’s, preferring not to waste time on superficial sexual or social experiments. Central to the film’s themes are Pascal’s famous wager: it is logical to live a Christian life because if God exists you have more to gain that what you may lose if he doesn’t. From a religious point of view, it is unsatisfying because one is merely playing the odds. For Kevin Elyot those odds take on a new sinister twist as characters in the play start to disappear as part of the late century AIDS epidemic. The central character John (James Gordon) bares the imprint of the lifestyles positive attributes yet appears sad and lonely at the end. Guy (John-Paul Santucci baring an unmissable resemblance to Jean-Louis Trintignant with curly hair) the ironic instigator of the Bacchanalia in college suffers not from choice, but chance. The central question of My Night with Reg soon becomes, is the famous gay bacchanalia really worth it in the end? Can choice properly exist when chance is manipulated to work so defiantly against it?
The key to My Night with Reg then becomes an inverted queer parable posited against My Night at Maud’s. Just like the film, Kevin Elyot’s great achievement is in characterization and conversation. People relating because they love to relate. These characters are articulate, interested, informed, educated, amused vulnerable, totally free of epigrams and aware of their identities. We watch, spellbound, as these characters realise their identities and see if they fall victims to their own choice, predestination or luck. Delicately directed by Alice Livingstone with an eye toward the film to which it pays homage, My Night With Reg moves into the philosophical realm (the world of Eric Rhomer) with a stern rebuke to Rohmer and Pascal (and dare we add, God?) with his claim that the physical isn’t always about morality and self-control. Sometimes it is an issue of life and death.
The intense philosophy is beautifully wrought using the same tropes as the film. Tom Bannerman’s set, clearly paying homage to Maud’s famous bedroom (there’s a big white couch that calls forth everyone’s confessions like Maud’s bed) expands into an interior accommodating the emotional distress and complexity of each character. The added beauty of a giant film screen that acts as a back-apartment wall upon which silvery black and white clouds connote a rain that tumbles down a giant slanted window traps the characters connection to their interior in the same way snow imprisoned those in the film. Friends become lovers and lovers try to stay friends ever haunted by the shadow of death. Lighting by Mehran Mortezaei borrows from Alice Livingstone’s delicacy to soften the harshness of life inside this small refuge of sorts where these people can play out their various dramas.
However, central to the overall success of this production of My Night with Reg is Alice Livingstone’s deft direction that includes all the wit and insight of Eric Rohmer’s light touch, pus a remarkable ability to hold characters on the stage and reveal interiors via a commitment to realism and naturalistic dialogue. The combination of intellectual and political interests confirmed in an intense examination of everyday life are supported by that ever-present rain imposing an unnatural silence upon the world outside Guy’s door. Alice Livingstone does a special job here, adhering to a deceptive lightness, always refusing melodrama and not getting overly cerebral. We feel close to all of the characters while equally permitted to hear and dissect their actions. It’s rare to see existential anxieties displayed with such a gentle touch, particularly in theater that moves with so much intensity. Alice Livingstone gracefully bares the overarching threat inherent in gradual theatre and takes time to expand the lives of her characters, trusting her audience to stay with her. It works remarkably well, particularly due to great performances from her cast. The play lies on the shoulders of John-Paul Santucci who carries the play back and forward through time via his characters display of endless patience. Equally Steven Lyubovic as Daniel plays a gay archetype to perfection, easing us into the interior worlds of the characters with charm, charisma and a clipped wit. James Gordon’s emotional blossoming as John is developed with great care and success. Satellite characters performed by Nick Curnow, Steve Corner and Michael Brindley draw the group into the outside world while still retaining that connection to the interior that becomes so apparent in Guy’s apartment.
My Night with Reg is a truly beautiful theatrical production, brought to a gentle success by great direction and excellent production qualities from New Theatre on the whole. It’s importance no doubt belongs to the Queer community, but for those of us who love Eric Rohmer films, and particularly My Night at Maud’s (there was a time in my life when I wanted to be Maud) this is an exquisite and delicate crossover moment where film and theatre meet each other with collaborative understanding. It’s an exciting production for film lovers to enjoy and one I would encourage greatly.