|Mildred Dunnock, Richard A. Dysart, Alvin Epstein.|
|Mildred Dunnock, Alvin Epstein.|
This elusive, atmospheric drama came to New York after its American premiere at New Haven’s Long Wharf Theatre. It had the unusual distinction of being presented during the same season in its original French version, L’Amante Anglais (described here), starring the great actress Madeleine Renaud. Her role was now taken by distinguished actress Mildred Dunnock, who was supported by two equally outstanding actors, Alvin Epstein and Richard A. Dysart.
In a plot inspired by an actual 1966 murder case, Claire Lannes (Dunnock), a middle-aged, small-town woman, has confessed without pressure to the horrible murder of her deaf-mute housekeeper-cousin, whose body she chopped into many small pieces. As she experiences the intense questioning of a man (Epstein), whose function as a reporter or psychiatrist is never fully explained, the audience comes to understand the explosive rage that boiled up in this woman as a result of her dreary life in her boring town. Her husband (Dysart) of two decades realizes that only chance has saved him from the fate meted out to the victim.
The ambiguous style of the writing, in which motives and characters are never clearly explained, led Edith Oliver to dismiss the play as “a pretentious and empty exercise in mystification and bogus revelations.” Similarly, in Jack Kroll’s view, it was “one of those chic, bloodless, sterile exercises in esthetic-philosophical algebra,” of which he believed the French are fond.
The acting of Dunnock was excellent, inspiring Harold Clurman to applaud it as her best since she created the role of Linda Loman in Death of a Salesman in 1949. For her work, she received a Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Performance.