HONOUR (2005)
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"Bracingly honest and deeply moving" -San Francisco Chronicle

HONOUR explores what happens when a marriage of 32 years is suddenly derailed. Is marriage meant to last? Is fidelity natural? Joanna Muray-Smith's frank and honest play immerses us in an emotional world of love and betrayal.

HONOUR
by JOANNA MURRAY-SMITH
directed by ANDREW J. ROBINSON

starring
Robert Foxworth and Granville Van Dusen as "Gus"
Susan Sullivan as "Honor"
Kirsten Potter as "Claudia"
 Becky Wahlstrom as "Sophie"

Set Designer - Stephanie Kerley Schwartz
Costume Designer - Michele K. Short
Properties Designer - Mary Sherwood
Managing Director - Dara Weinberg
Lighting Designer - J. Kent Inasy
Composer - Peter Erskine
Casting Director - Marilyn Mandel
Stage Manager - Samie Wayne IV
Marketing/Publicity by David Elzer/DEMAND PR

Photo by Karen Bellone * Graphic Design by buddhacowboy.com

REVIEWS

Variety, August 29, 2005

by Joel Hirschorn

In Joanna Murray-Smith's one-acter, middle-age housewife and formerly prominent poetess Honor (Susan Sullivan) comments to a reporter that there comes a time when reading is more enjoyable than being handcuffed to a bed. Her witty renunciation of sex as a key force in marriage sets the stage for a cleverly written, highly entertaining drama about a man's desire for a much younger woman and how it destroys his 32-year marriage. This ultrasmooth production, perceptively directed by Andrew J. Robinson, offers so many relevant observations about relationships that it overcomes the lack of sexual fire needed to make its premise fully plausible.

Pulitzer Prize-winning writer-journalist Gus (Robert Foxworth) is shown being interviewed by 29-year-old Claudia (Kirsten Potter), a beautiful, calculating biographer who eventually leaps past literary language with a randy come-on. This unleashes 59-year-old Gus' resolve to abandon the chic, elegant Honor and reclaim the lust of his youth.

After acclaimed portrayals of the title role by Jane Alexander (on Broadway), Eileen Atkins (London's National Theater) and a reading by Meryl Streep at the New York Stage & Film Festival in 1996, Sullivan makes the part her own, turning this version into a personal triumph.

She vividly externalizes a woman's realization that she has sacrificed her gifts to support her husband's work, and now must view herself as a totally separate human being. Her transitions -- from self-assurance to steadily mounting horror and gradual acceptance -- are superbly conveyed. Honor's dignity is all the more heartbreaking because it's evident that shattering heartbreak lies beneath it.

Sullivan's flair for tossing off acerbic lines lends excitement to scenes with her ruthlessly confrontational rival. Fortunately, Potter is a match for Sullivan's power. More than a phony, silky-sweet Eve Harrington, Potter's Claudia has startling audacity, accented by Michele K. Short's clinging jungle-print dress that defines Claudia's predatory nature. She's not afraid to be callous and unsympathetic, justifying Gus' evaluation of her: "You're a hard little thing, aren't you?" The sequence where she tells Gus' daughter, Sophie (Becky Wahlstrom), how wonderful her father is in bed has a wounding viciousness.

Wahlstrom, like her female co-stars, is dynamically talented...

Portraying the husband wedged between two women, Foxworth (who alternates in the part with Granville Van Dusen) puts forth the right scholarly persona. As he and Sullivan sit comfortably in Stephanie Kerley Schwartz's appropriately conservative set -- with beige modern couch and three bookcases -- their interaction shows the intellectual compatibility that made the marriage function for more than three decades.

Foxworth also is outstanding when he damns Claudia's novel with faint praise -- "It was ... very nice" -- stumbling along as his young lover grows incensed at the perceived rejection and responds, "You're saying I'm obvious." This moment is particularly resonant, since we see his tepid response will prove fatal to their affair...

Murray-Smith's script is at its best in the scenes involving wronged wife and malevolent mistress. She suggests Claudia's true admiration and emotional feelings are for Honor, and the play's most memorable exchange occurs when Claudia asks for Honor's forgiveness. Sullivan's reply is a measure of her depth as an actress, her dry answer suggesting multiple levels of inner contempt and sadness: "Don't make me watch you grow up."
 

Blunt Review

by Kate West

Marriage is tough. Especially after 32 years. No one knows that better than Honour (Susan Sullivan), whose husband abruptly leaves her, with no obvious warning (externally anyway), in the emotionally wrenching "Honour", now playing at the Matrix Theatre Company. Robert Foxworth is Gus (alternating with Granville Van Dusen), a published author and intellectual, who decides to change his life completely after an interview with a beautiful, young aspiring writer, Claudia (Kirsten Potter). Like many men, he suffers a mid-life crisis, believing that if he exchanges one woman for another (and a younger model at that) he will find youth again. He tells himself that he is being true to his best self, and that it was a long time coming, but he is really childishly attempting to see himself more clearly through another's eyes (something he accuses his wife of doing). "There were signs" he tells Honour, in order to justify his betrayal, and it is just unfortunate that she did not see them before as he does not responsible for any further explanation. And that's that.

Honour bears the brunt of the news with restrained stoicism, coupled with the occasional heartbroken outburst. Her strong sense of duty caused her to remain loyal to her husband throughout all those years, perhaps sacrificing her own deepest potential. She too is a published writer, although her husband's work always took precedence. Surprisingly, both her daughter Sophie (Becky Wahlstrom) and the "other woman", Claudia, chide her for losing herself in her marriage. They both want to idolize her but are frustrated by her apparent lack of identity.

Director Andrew J. Robinson skillfully leads his actors to the strong performances that speak to our own private heartaches. Susan Sullivan is wonderful as the wounded Honour, who may seem a victim but who is ultimately true to her own convictions. Robert Foxworth is chilling as the unfeeling husband who seeks passion in another woman. He consumes the energy of everyone around him and then discards them when they are used up. His admiration for Claudia (played fiercely by Kirsten Potter) as a seemingly independent intellectual equal is misguided as neither of them truly understands what love really is. And what will happen when he tires of her as well? Becky Wahlstrom is also convincing as the confused, lost Sophie, caught between exasperation at her mother and resentment toward her father. Everyone aspires to happiness but do not always know how to achieve it.

In expressing this angst, playwright Joanna Murray-Smith's dialogue reflects that of a writer's family and not the way in which most of us would normally speak. Love is poetic, however, so this style works for the piece, enhancing the nobility of the messages of sacrifice and commitment. The main theme of the play is the question of honor - which is more honorable, remaining loyal to duty and giving yourself over to the inevitable compromises of love or making yourself your first priority? All of the characters struggle with this dilemma and in the end, Honour appears the strongest. Not only does she end up with the clearest sense of self but also the ability to survive, in spite of initially resisting change in her established world. She did not choose to live alone, but she may just triumph over all, fully living up to her name. Emotionally draining, the play encompasses sorrow and disillusionment and above all, the difficulties of human relationships. And thus we recognize the truth in ourselves and the inevitability of the anguish of love.
 

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