Still Life

Those who thought of Noel Coward only as an urbane raconteur marveled to discover this poignant gem, one of nine contrasting short plays presented in rep as a bravura showpiece for himself and his childhood friend, Gertrude Lawrence:  "Tonight at 8:30."

 

 

In a suburban British railway station. where time is suspended and almost anything can happen. . . three evocative love stories ~ bittersweet, playful and earthbound ~ evolve from the hopeful spring of 1936 into that lonely and desolate winter. 

Coward himself wrote the script for David Lean's Rachmaninoff-drenched film adaptation, "Brief Encounter."  Masterpiece though it is, it downplayed the rowdy humor between Albert the station master and Myrtle the cafe proprietress, a highlight of the play.

 

A more tentative (and proper) romance is going on between Stanley and Beryl.

In typical Isle of Shoals fashion, we interpolated another Coward song, "I'll See You Again," for the starry-eyed Beryl to sing in screechy cockney with radio accompaniment.  (In Act II, "Cafe Coward," Erin Clancy sang the song for real.)

But the central story is that of Alec and Laura, two decent married people, who accidentally fall in love with each other at the railway cafe.

A cafe run with a firm hand by Myrtle, who keeps not only her employee Beryl in line, but also the flower girl, Mildred.

Beryl observes the developing drama between Alec and Laura with romantic fascination.

The interruption of two drunken soldiers allows Albert to show Myrtle who's rules the roost.

In the end Alec and Laura decide that, as a matter of conscience, they must separate.

But even their good-byes are ill-fated, interrupted by the arrival of Dolly, a chatty acquaintance in town for some shopping.