Monday, January 21, 2008

Conflict and human drama in "Vertical Hour"

My freelance review:
Conflict is a central theme of The Vertical Hour, an intelligent, intriguing drama now playing at the Studio Theatre at the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis.

The play, written in 2006 by British political playwright David Hare, focuses on Nadia, a former war correspondent and now a professor of International Relations at Yale. She knows exactly what her stance is on the war in Iraq and the United States' role in world affairs. She has seen action firsthand on the battlefields of Sarajevo and Baghdad, she has advised Bush on foreign affairs, and yet she is ever-so-nervous as she accompanies her boyfriend Philip to Wales to meet his opinionated and lethally charming father, Oliver.

The theme of conflict plays out in numerous ways. There's political discord between Nadia and Oliver, who vehemently opposes the war in Iraq. There's deep-rooted father-son dissension between Oliver and Philip. And there are varying degrees of personal unrest among all three of the main characters, especially as Oliver slowly and seductively reveals his secret past to Nadia.

Director Jim O'Connor delivers an intimate and engaging production -- exactly what is needed for a show like this. Courtesy of scenic and costume designer Marie Anne Chiment, lighting designer Mark Wilson and stage manager Champe Leary, the ambience is warm and inviting, much like one might imagine at a Welsh country home. And in the Rep's creative Studio Theatre, the creative integration of the stage and the seats brings the audience right into the story. At times the actors were no more than 2-3 feet away from me!

With such an intimate, well-written and well-staged production, a lot hangs on the caliber of the acting. And I'm pleased to report that the acting is superb. Kudos to Gloria Biegler as Nadia, Anderson Matthews as Oliver and Jeremiah Wiggins as Philip.

The Vertical Hour is a thought-provoking examination of personal and political conflict. It plays through Feb. 3 at the Studio Theatre at the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis in Webster Groves.

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