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Paulanne Simmons

There's a Lot Going on in "Nothing"

59E59 Theaters
59 East 59th St. between Park and Madison
Re-staged by Philip Prowse
Opened June 7, 2006
Tue.-Fri. 8 p.m., Sat. 2 & 8 p.m., Sun. 3 & 7 p.m.
$45 (212) 279-4200 or www.ticketcentral.com
Closes July 2, 2006
Reviewed by Paulanne Simmons June 22, 2006

Oh those upper class English snobs! Haven't we seen enough of them in comedies by Oscar Wilde and Noel Coward? Apparently not. And it's a good thing, because Andrea Hart's adaptation of Henry Green's 1950 novel, "Nothing" sparkles with cruel wit and caustic dialogue. And it is currently part of the Brits Off Broadway festival at 59E59 Theaters.

"Nothing" originated at the Glasgow Citizen's Theatre under the direction of the late Robert David MacDonald. This latest production has been re-stage and designed for Brits Off Broadway by Philip Prose.

Set in the years following World War II when wealthy Brits had lost much of their money but none of their manners, "Nothing" stars Sophie Ward as the pampered and acidic Jane Wetherby and Simon Dutton as her ex-lover, John Pomeret.

Once again single, thanks to the death of the partners to whom they were married at the time of their affair, both are free to indulge their whims without consequences. Jane is involved with a stuffy older man named Richard Abbot (Derwent Watson). John is seeing the too eager and too easy Liz Jennings (Andrea Hart).

The catch is that Jane has a son, Philip (Peter Ashmore), and John has a daughter, Mary (Candida Benson). Both are dutiful, obedient, meek and, unlike their parents, totally serious about life. Telephone conversations upstage reveal that they think they are in love. And at Philip's 21st birthday party, he announces their engagement.

Of course, John and Jane oppose the marriage, it seems for no other reason than that their children have stolen the limelight. But while they work on breaking up the engagement, they are again drawn to each other. In the meantime, with nothing else to do, Liz and Richard find solace in each others' arms.

"Nothing" is economically staged on a set that serves as the various parlors, restaurants and cafes where John meets Jane, Jane meets Richard, Richard meets Liz, etc. This allows for smooth transitions between the play's many scenes. It is no mean trick, as without s solid structure, the play of illusions and allusions would never stand up.

Entrusted to a less competent cast, "Nothing" might fall as flat as a cold soufflé. Instead it is quick, funny and wicked. The sharpest knife in the draw is Ward, who slashes and jabs with perfect timing and tone in lines like, "She's not poor, she's even very attractive in her own way. Well, she must be to have the success she has. I don't have a problem with her, only that she's a horrid beast who simply oughtn't to be alive."

Although "Nothing" is not a particularly probing or penetrating play, despite its title, it is neither vapid nor meaningless. It deals with personal responsibility, fidelity and morality, if only in a superficial way.

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