“a clunky amalgam of genres, none of them strong enough to be definitive”
Jonny’s a singer. His job is entertaining folks, singing songs and telling jokes. In a nightclub. Well, not a nightclub but a casino in Atlantic City. It is made clear it is not the most upmarket casino in town, but you’d at least expect the hostess (an underused Jacqueline Dankworth) to insist he smartens up before starting his shift. It feels like we’re at an open mic session in the back room of a saloon bar. Jonny’s wife Rebecca works in marketing at the casino so it stands to reason she would get up onstage to sing a number too. Why not? There’s rich folk who are spending a lot of cash at the roulette wheels, so they need some top-class entertainment. Even the waitress gets a shot, though she doesn’t sing, she plaintively strums an acoustic guitar.
Composer Dylan Schlosberg bypassed the nineties box office hit film and secured the rights to Jack Engelhard’s original novel before teaming up with writer Michael Conley. His songs, however, seem to belong to a different show from Conley’s book and lyrics. With a couple of exceptions, they could be fileted off the backbone of the story and served up with another script.
Most of us will know the story, and the dialogue and debates that surrounded the release of the nineties film. What would you do in their position? Jonny (Norman Bowman) and Rebecca (Lizzy Connolly) are young and in love. It’s a solid marriage but money is an issue. Billionaire Larry (Ako Mitchell) walks into the casino one night and offers a million dollars to spend a night with Rebecca. (For a very brief moment there is a hint that he might have chosen Jonny, which would have provided a more interesting dynamic. But alas the narrative slumps back into its period predictability). “I’m rich, I’m lonely, you’re lovely” Larry says to Rebecca. That is as deep as it gets. The script never ventures from the shallow waters, nor does it try to bring itself up to date.
What would you do with a million dollars? Or rather the question is what will you do without it (do you regret the things you do or the things you don’t?). So, we swiftly move on to post decision, and Rebecca is dressed up and ready for her date with Larry. A stylised bedroom scene stroke nightmare precedes the fall out. Jealousy, regret and separation. Larry sings a song at the club (of course, why not?) then leaves. A year passes, Jonny sings the song he wrote for Rebecca at the start and asks her “so what happens now?”
Bowman and Connolly give solid performances, capturing the emotional fall out of the deed. But there aren’t enough hooks for us to empathise, or to share the need for the answer to the questions. Charlotte Westenra’s staging is often inventive, making good use of the space and nimbly switching from casino to bedroom to a moonlit sidewalk. But overall, “Indecent Proposal” is a clunky amalgam of genres, none of them strong enough to be definitive. The closing line (Rebecca’s answer to Jonny’s parting question) is apt: “Who the f–k knows?”
“a skilled and entertaining, if rather undramatic, evening”
The intriguingly named The Sorrows of Satan is not a musical, but a “play with music.” That definition is one of the running gags in this elegant four hander by Luke Bateman (music) and Michael Conley (lyrics), directed by Adam Lenson, and filmed at the impressive Brocket Hall for online presentation. Another running gag is that no matter where we are in the plot, any time a new song is introduced, the tune is always the same, unless the devil has substituted his own music. Audiences won’t be surprised, therefore, to learn that this show is a new adaptation of the Faust story — and a very loose adaptation at that. More interestingly, The Sorrows of Satan takes more of its source material from Marie Corelli’s 1895 best selling novel of the same title. But as is sometimes the case when novels are adapted for the stage, there’s a lot of attention paid to the characters, but not really enough on the complex story that surrounds them. The result is a drama that is rich in delicious dialogue and clever song lyrics, but a bit thin on plot and a satisfying denouément.
No one reads Corelli any more, which is a pity, since her novels are well written descriptions of the excesses of the Gilded Age, with the perspective of a writer who knew how poverty could challenge the artist in search of a muse, and who also knew at first hand the circus that follows fame and fortune. Now that we are living through a new Gilded Age, it’s easy to see why Bateman and Conley picked this novel to adapt for the stage. Kudos to them and their producers, Aisling Tara and Alfred Taylor-Gaunt, for presenting it now. The pandemic has made it even harder for struggling artists to make a living, let alone find recognition for their work.
This adaptation of The Sorrows of Satan does make references to the social consciousness that Corelli was famous for, but Bateman and Conley prefer a lighter tone full of repartee and bon mots, which is more appropriate, given the setting for this production. They begin by introducing us to Geoffrey Tempest, a writer on the verge of destitution, who has been invited, rather improbably, to present his new “play with music” The Sorrows of Satan, to a specially invited aristocratic audience at a stately home. Once we learn that the devil, aka Prince Lucio Rimanez, is behind this invitation, hoping to win Tempest’s soul, the improbable becomes acceptable, and the theme of temptation and soul selling for fame and fortune finds its well worn groove.
The lion’s share of the action in The Sorrows of Satan go to Bateman, playing author Geoffrey Tempest, and Conley, as Prince Lucio. These two are likeable foils for one another, with good singing voices. Conley in particular is a charming, if rather languid devil, who can, at times, be roused to push people out of windows when they step out of line. It is left to Molly Lynch, playing a variety of women who step out of line by refusing to fall in love with Tempest, to provide some dramatic, and sexual, tension. She is suitably aristocratic as Lady Sybil, aggressively feminist as (successful) playwright Mavis Clare, and finally, sweet and vulnerable as the fresh young Irish actress Molly, who provides a way out of the tempting dilemma the devil and his eager victim find themselves. All three actors, together with musical director Stefan Bednarczyk, present on stage at the piano, and playing the (mostly) silent Amiel, Prince Lucio’s factotum, provide a skilled and entertaining, if rather undramatic, evening.