Thursday, April 07, 2011


If Michael Fray had written nothing but the delightfully hysterical Noises Off, he would still rate a place in the heart of all theatre lovers. However, Frayn has written a great deal more than that, and the rest of his prodigious output is also impressive. A prime example is Benefactors, currently on the boards in a fine production by the Keen Company.

Benefactors is the story of two couples, longtime friends who may not be sure exactly why they are longtime friends. Jane and David are happy together and enjoy his work as an architect (Jane works as his assistant). Colin and Sheila have a more problematic relationship, with Colin blustery and critical and Sheila lost and manipulative. All four live lives of careful balance, ignoring emotions that might tip the scales, until one of David's architectural projects undoes their balancing acts.

Using a combination of straight-to-the-audience speeches and intercharacter conversation, Benefactors explores the meaning of giving and of friendship and examines the lies we tell each other, and ourselves. Frayn has a fascinating ability to write lyrical dialogue that still sounds like actual people speaking, and the beauty of the language is one of the many strengths of this excellent play. The direction by Carl Forsman and the performances by Vivienne Benesch, Daniel Jenkins, Deanne Lorette, and Stephen Barker Turner are all top-notch, with extra kudos going to Benesch for being such a compelling listener.

It is amazing enough that Frayn is so prolific. That he is so prolific and so good is breathtaking.

(Press ticket, fourth row on the aisle. Audience included about 50 high school girls, who were engaged and even gasped now and again.)

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