DEALING WITH CLAIR (2004)
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DEALING WITH CLAIR
by MARTIN CRIMP
directed by ANDREW J. ROBINSON

Producer - JOSEPH STERN

starring Abigail Brammell, Lesley Fera, Gregg Henry,
Morlan Higgins, Brendan Hines, Gregory Itzin,
Jay Karnes, Julie Mann, Abigail Revasch,
Rachel Robinson and Christian Svensson

Dealing With Clair made an early splash for writer Martin Crimp, now generally acknowledged as a successor to the Pinter with echoes of Mamet (Quite a pedigree!). He uses mordant humor to expose the foibles of the contemporary middle class. A satirical examination of the property boom in Britain, Clair combines burgeoning greed with the real-life disappearance of a young real estate agent, thus creating an enigmatic atmosphere at once familiar and thankfully, distant.

Fellow playwright Joe Penhall says, "Crimp is virtually alone among contemporary playwrights in his ability to write utterly real, hilariously unlikable characters -- who remind us of our neighbors, our friends, our colleagues, ourselves."

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REVIEWS

L.A. Times - October 22, 2004

Relationships as dicey real estate
by Rob Kendt
(Photo, L-R: Morlan Higgins, Lesley Fera & Gregg Henry)

"Atmosphere" is one selling point of the cozy London home at the center of politely tense negotiations in Martin Crimp's "Dealing With Clair."

Atmosphere is also a key element in the play's nuanced suspense -- the unspoken desires and resentments in the air as a cool young real estate agent, Clair (Abigail Brammell), handles the sale between a bickering couple (Jay Karnes and Rachel Robinson on the night reviewed) and a weirdly charming businessman, James (Morlan Higgins on the night reviewed; the show is double-cast except for Brammell).

Clair is compelled to represent each party to the other in ways that are unavoidably intimate, emotionally taxing and borderline creepy. The key word is "borderline": Storm clouds that gather around Crimp's characters never quite burst.

The Matrix Theatre's U.S. premiere production artfully skims along the play's implacable surface while subtexts roil below.

Director Andrew J. Robinson, who's mounted expert Matrix productions of Pinter and Beckett, mines every exchange for maximum transactional value: the way the husband unconsciously condescends to, and comes on to, his child's Italian nanny (Abigail Revasch), or the way James draws out the reserved Clair, for personal reasons that are never clear.

If there's a drawback in Robinson's approach, it's that some subtleties are italicized too broadly, particularly between the self-involved marrieds. Their escalating contention, which is more demonstrative than seems entirely English, tends to overwhelm the play's central enigma: the deceptively brisk, businesslike Clair.

The muted tones of Stephanie Kerley Schwartz's set and Dan Weingarten's lights situate the property on the edge between comfortable seclusion and spooky isolation.

If we're more unsettled than satisfied by the play's icy denouement, that is surely as Crimp intended. We can be haunted more, in the end, by what's unsaid and unseen..
 

L.A. Weekly - PICK OF THE WEEK

by Steven Leigh Morris
(Photo, L-R: Morlan Higgins & Abigail Brammell)

The Matrix Theater Company is back after a three-year hiatus with another in a series of topflight repertories, all double cast, because of the likelihood that these actors will be called in for industry work at a moment's notice. Producer Joe Stern created this system call it defensive or pre-emptive, or whatever. This production lays to rest the critique that actors are throwing together productions in their "downtime." Andrew J. Robinson's spare staging of Martin Crimp's play reveals considerably more craft and polish than, say. Cheek by Jowl's production of Othello, a London import staged at UCLA last week and a company that has the luxury of doing theater in its "uptime." In this American premiere, the Matrix introduces L.A. to Crimp, a Pinteresque English playwright who even shares Pinter's literary agent. Crimp's real estate satire shows almost every character, at some point, insisting on doing the "honorable" thing none does. In the course of the action, a broker named Clair (Abigail Brammell), whom we see living on the railway tracks, disappears without a trace. The play studies the high-toned hypocrisy of all the players that leads to her presumably gruesome demise. On the night I attended, Gregory Itsin played the latter-day Jack the Ripper with wily eccentricity grease-covered twitches beneath a donlike facade in a nuance-laced performance like few I've seen this year. Brammell was a marvelously fluttery waif, trying to muster some weight in her negotiations. With shudder-inducing authenticity, Gregg Henry and Lesley Fera played an ethically bankrupt couple trying to sell their London home. In a comedic cameo, Julie Mann portrayed their Italian nanny, barely speaking English, smiling seductively and lying about in strategically arousing positions.
 

BackStage West - October 28, 2004

by Dany Margolies

How do we "deal?" We ignore, we try harder, we overcompensate, we sublimate. How do we begin to understand a play? We hear words, we see gazes, we somehow feel disquieted. In English playwright Martin Crimp's U.S. premiere, the financial dealings that concern a London house being brokered by London real estate agent Clair are told in fairly straightforward language. Other dealings are told through bits of conversations, subtle metaphors, nervous laughter. To these director Andrew J. Robinson and his flawless cast add inflection, a tensed fist, a tetchy tone, a longing glance. The result is a production that shames us, shakes us, and best of all makes us think about our priorities, moralities, responsibilities, and pathologies.

Clair is a realtor accustomed to dealing with aggression - not violence, she tells her mother. Maybe she'll make a killing and just vanish, she says at the top of the play. We witness passive aggression; any violence is for our quivering imaginations. Abigail Brammell plays Clair as a confident but slightly reserved twentysomething - certainly likeable, even though we, as others, get to know Clair only slightly. Otherwise the production is double-cast, providing an exquisite study of acting choices. Played by Jay Karnes and Rachel Robinson, the sellers are freshly young and cheery, able to rib each other, with Karnes as a particularly sunny and seemingly irreproachable young husband. Played by Gregg Henry and Lesley Fera, the couple seems less newlywed, slightly darker - Fera's wife is more distracted, Henry is more of a dab hand at glad-handing. As for their Italian nanny - a fascinating addition to the storyline - Julie Mann plays her as sweeter, more childlike, merely lacking in know-how or energy, while Abigail Revasch plays her from simpering to devious, desultorily failing to step in where needed. Brendan Hines and Christian Svensson alternate in three charming one-scene roles.

But the show belongs to the actor playing James - the buyer, the probable perpetrator, the quintessential satanic figure masquerading in upper-class tones. Morlan Higgins plays him with exquisite longing, with a slowly revealed deviancy. Greg Itzin's James is slightly dandified, more restless, less willing to wait for his prey. Whatever is done to Clair - and Crimp's language and the actors' physicalities offer ample clues but never quite tell us - Higgins' actions more likely came from worshiping Clair too much, Itzin's from hating her, perhaps hating all women. Near the play's end, in Clair's apartment, Higgins luxuriates in her sheets, while Itzin seems there to tidy up any mess.

But nothing could sicken us as much as the nonchalance of the sellers and the new agent. They momentarily toy with guilt, thinking of the "right" thing to do, and then dust it all away, turning their gazes inward to themselves and their pockets. Now who's the villain?
 

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