Wipe memories of the novel and film versions of “The End of the Affair” out of your head. Get ready for a musical.
And brace yourself: Ian Lowe ’04 wrote the script, composed the music, stars in one of the lead roles and — goodness gracious — co-directed the production. With director Sally Bernstein ’03 and producer Kinu Panda ’04, his musical is simple and seductively entertaining.
It is a Sudler Fund play, so the production is not lavish. Panda has gone the other direction, putting together a team that recreates the atmospherics of war-torn London with plain, old-style Hollywood appeal.
Lowe pares Graham Greene’s already lean novel into a script that hums with dramatic energy. The story is full of adultery, jealousy, obsession and religious uncertainty.
It bears mentioning that the characters — half a century after the novel’s publication — have become archetypes.
We begin with a passionate, vodka-soaked novelist named Bendrix, who devours and spits out everyone he meets. He is following around a civil servant for a new book he is writing, and we immediately sense the poor man won’t last long once Bendrix gets his hands on him.
The civil servant, Henry, is buttoned-down and vapory: suspicious of his beautiful wife, he is somewhat creepy but at the heart of it a decent man. The wife, Sarah, is a stunner, but wise beyond her beauty and strong to a fault.
Bendrix and Sarah have an obsessive and sometimes destructive affair that threatens to consume both Bendrix and Henry with jealousy. Neither men love perfectly, nor does Sarah.
The two circle around each other. Henry knows his wife is cheating with someone but he does not know who it is. But the play is more than that. If you have not read the book or seen the movie do not read the next two paragraphs.
The play’s defining moment, a moment of almost mystical violence, comes halfway through. During a bombing raid, Bendrix appears to die, and Sarah’s prayers seem to bring him miraculously back to life: but in her prayers she promises that if he revives she will never see him again.
Which vows should she keep? Should she be faithful to God and her husband, or faithful to her more insistent love for Bendrix? Bernstein and Lowe deftly navigate their way through the play’s moral ambiguity.
But the star of the show is unquestionably Lowe, who plays Henry, and his music.
At times the lyrics do feel a little maudlin — at one point Sarah sings that “love does not melt like mountain snow, or dry like morning dew” — but Lowe nevertheless provides a score that is nothing short of astounding. Even if only because it’s an original musical, go see this show.
And go to see Lowe’s acting. He captures Henry’s quiet, trembling desperation perfectly, and in his final monologue he is nothing short of mesmerizing.
As Bendrix, Anthony Seabrooks ’04 turns in a performance that is sometimes neurotic, even for a keyed-up novelist, and sometimes pitch-perfect. Even as he nervously fingers his tie, his charisma in the lead role carries us through the play. His magneticism is really only trumped by that of Jennifer Thompson ’03, whose turn as the partly haughty, partly saintly Sarah is a blessing.
The only shame is that the smaller roles — Will Reid ’04 as Parkis and Noah Kaye ’02 as a Smythe — are so short; Reid and Kaye steal their fair share of scenes as the bumbling private eye and the smarmy priest.
For all its virtues, the technical elements of the play sometimes languish. Panda’s sound design is occasionally inexpert, as phones seem to ring on the wrong side of the room, and voice overs cut in jarringly.
Dustyn Williams’ ’05 lighting design is nevertheless fine-tuned, the costumes convey period perfectly, and the set is spartan though communicative.
If you will pardon me, Lowe, Panda and Bernstein’s Affair is worth remembering.