Edmund White | Critical Review by Jonathan Dyson

This literature criticism consists of approximately 3 pages of analysis & critique of Edmund White.
This section contains 744 words
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Critical Review by Jonathan Dyson

SOURCE: "Three times three," in Times Literary Supplement, July 30, 1993, p. 19.

In the following review, Dyson complains that, "The problem with Trios is that it plays as if real dramatic skill in writing and direction has not been applied."

Fresh from a biography of Jean Genet, Edmund White has presided over this revival of his 1990 three-hander, directed (as was that production) by Simon Usher and starring two of the original cast, Kelly Hunter and Robert Langdon Lloyd. But in fact the tone of this love triangle replayed in three different eras has much in common with the kind of sociological probing found in his life of the great provocateur. Visitors to this aircraft hangar of a theatre will see little of the humour and deftness of language which made such successes of White's autobiographical A Boy's Own Story and The Beautiful Room Is Empty. Trios is stuck firmly in the behavioural laboratory.

The starting point for each triangle is the same: a young woman (Hunter) is drawn from her marriage to an older husband (Langdon Lloyd) to have an affair with a younger man (played this time by newcomer Charles Edwards). In the first incarnation, the nineteenth-century society hostess rejects her suffocating marriage and elopes to the provinces with a dashing, penniless charmer. We then switch to an English country house in the 1920s where a deaf cook is tempted to seek solace from her brutal husband-chauffeur in the arms of the idealistic young houseboy planning to emigrate to Australia. And finally to a present-day open relationship in New York, where a striving young actress introduces her student lover to her washed-up artist husband.

The action darts back and forth between the three stories. "Dart" is the word: for every scene change the actors have to rush tables and chairs from one end of the long stage to the other and plunge themselves in and out of their period costumes. This is so cumbersome and time-consuming as to be comic, but the over-loud snatches of rock and country music played during these change-overs are just plain irritating. The effect is to drive a wedge between scenes when what we are presumably meant to be doing is considering their careful juxtaposition.

Evidently, the idea behind showing these stories being constructed is to reflect the play's central thesis that we all create fictions of ourselves and our relationships. For White in this play, love and all emotions are simply the constantly shifting products of time, place, prevailing social conditions and sexual instincts—"dressed up" and given spurious significance. Antony Lamble's sparse, uninspired set foregrounds this artificiality: three doors hang suspended in frames to the right and left and at the back, and beyond and between them we see the bricks and machinery of the theatre and the actors waiting their entrances and changing costumes.

The three stories of Trios are played out without much subtlety. The Victorian segment becomes something of a hammed-up Anna Karenina as the young lovers repent their hasty elopement and subsequent penury—the woman knowing society will not allow her to return to husband and son, the man aware he is locked in a doomed relationship. Only Edwards manages to snatch back some conviction here from bouts of lacklustre declaiming.

Meanwhile, below stairs, a generation on, the woman's social status as servant and wife and her disability mean that any kind of attempt to escape a violent marriage is not a realistic option and is likely to have disastrous consequences. A rather over-the-top Langdon Lloyd keeps the upper hand over a sharply, manically characterized Hunter—all nervous twitches and stifled shrieks—and a slightly sketchy Edwards.

Only in the modern section does White really seem to get the measure of his characters. Hippy Langdon Lloyd endearingly lollops around the stage and circles towards a growing attachment to the increasingly self-aware young student. Liberated modern woman, meanwhile, an unconvincingly physical Hunter, has the freedom to go elsewhere for sex and career progression. Here, White manages some convincing dialogue and humour—"I can never find Chicken Tarragon. It's listed under 'P'—Perfect Chicken Tarragon", exclaims Edwards over his cook book. And Hunter: "I want to love like in the olden days."

In his fiction and non-fiction books, White works with ideas similar to those in Trios. The pay-off in the books, however, is a beautiful style, with exact descriptions and imagery. The problem with Trios is that it plays as if real dramatic skill in writing and direction has not been applied.

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This section contains 744 words
(approx. 3 pages at 300 words per page)
Buy the Critical Review by Jonathan Dyson
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