NEW YORK—David Hare’s 1982 drama “Plenty” is receiving a laudable revival at the Public Theater, the site of the play’s first appearance in New York years ago.
Susan Traherne (Rachel Weisz) is one of those people who must live for a cause. So it’s no surprise that this Brit chooses to become a courier behind enemy lines in France during World War II.
The play alternates between scenes on the battlefront and in the innocuous activities of everyday life in London and elsewhere.
Susan feels things deeply, as when she relates to a newly discovered comrade, Codename Lazar (Ken Barnett), and her intense sadness at learning that other comrades have perished in Nazi concentration camps.
She also thrives on excitement, and takes pride in doing what she feels is important work.
Her friend Alice Park (Emily Bergl) takes life as it comes, going along with the tide and making no demands on anyone or anything—in contrast to Susan.
Susan meets and later marries Raymond Brock (Corey Stoll), to whom she is consistently cruel, for no apparent reason other than her own dissatisfaction with civilian life.
Because Brock is a diplomat for the British Services, Susan should have no complaint, as least as far as creature comforts go. She and Brock live high off the hog, as the saying goes.
But Susan becomes more and more unreasonable. Her cynicism and sarcasm serve as potent weapons against the possibility of ever achieving a warm, loving relationship with her caring husband.
How can one work at a job wherein he is never permitted to speak his mind, to tell the truth, in fact, asks M. Aung (Pun Bandhu), a Middle Eastern diplomat who attends an intimate social event at the Brocks’s with his gentle, sensitive wife (Ann Sanders). As Susan’s behavior becomes more and more outrageous the Aungs take their leave prematurely, while always maintaining their dignity.
In fact, as time goes on in the stifling atmosphere of diplomacy, Susan becomes emotionally unhinged. She has admitted that she has never been the most stable of individuals.
When Brock’s superior tells her that Brock is progressing slowly, and that he has been passed over for an almost certain promotion, she breaks down. The superior has pointed out that factors other than efficiency come into play when selecting those who will advance in the Service.
Susan and Brock now downsize their living arrangements, and it becomes more apparent than ever that Susan will never be happy living an unexciting, unimportant kind of life.
Even the “plenty” that they had formerly enjoyed makes no impression on Susan.
Rachel Weisz exhibits consummate skill in her quicksilver emotional changes, which represent a kind of emotional coaster ride in the psyche of a woman who cannot bring herself to kowtow to the liars and hypocrites she encounters in the real world.
Under David Leveaux’s astute direction, the large cast brings clarity to what is sometimes a rather complex narrative, ignoring, as it does, continuity in the order of events.
Particularly adding to the effect is scenic design by Mike Britton, consisting of large panels that silently move around to indicate scene changes, hinged at their center like pages of an enormous book. This very much creates a cinematic effect, of the camera technique known as a “wipe.”
Lighting design by David Weiner and costumes by Jess Goldstein, plus original music and sound design by David Van Tieghem effectively round out the production elements.
An excellent production of a play generally viewed as a classic of its kind.
The Public Theater
425 Lafayette St.
Tickets: 212-967-7555 or PublicTheater.org
Running Time: 2 hours, 30 minutes (one intermission)
Closes: Dec. 1
Diana Barth writes on the arts for various publications, including New Millennium. She may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org