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The Deep Blue Sea

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The Deep Blue Sea, Bailiwick Repertory. The complexity of Terence Rattigan's characters and their moral dilemmas generally compensates for the dated depiction of gender relations in this 1952 drama: the less-than-successful painter Hester would sooner commit suicide than compromise her vision of romantic love. Her attempt to gas herself when her lover, an alcoholic pilot, forgets to come home on her birthday may strike a note more melodramatic than tragic. But Hester commands attention for her unwillingness to conform to social conventions and the dictates of class, rejecting her wealthy but apparently impotent husband's efforts to win her back. In a bleak society populated by palpably lonely people, Hester's attempted suicide seems less a mad, desperate deed than the painfully logical act of a woman whose passion is out of sync with the world around her.

To make the conflicts in Rattigan's post-World War II London seem relevant requires a staging of great precision. But despite a couple of engaging performances--most notably from Donna Smothers McGough as Hester's nosy but well-meaning landlady--Bailiwick's production is stiff, less a drama of manners than of mannerisms. Wavering accents and distractingly garish costumes and furniture don't help, and ultimately this competent but uninspired staging fails to make the play seem anything more than a museum piece. --Adam Langer

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