Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
Washington's Shakespeare Theatre Company is hosting ERS in its Lansburgh Theatre, the more intimate of its two venues. Scenic designer David Zinn has kept the stage space open; the primary set pieces are shelves of liquor bottles against the walls (The Select is the name of a bar in Paris where the characters spend much of their time), while tables and chairs take on different characteristics as needed.
Director John Collins plays up the artifice in Hemingway's story of American and British expatriates coping with life in Europe following World War I. He stresses that the actors are playing people who cover up their true feelings with alcohol, sex, and biting wit.
The central characters are Jake Barnes (hangdog Mike Iveson), an American journalist who was permanently wounded in the war, and English socialite Brett Ashley (sleek Stephanie Hayes), a sexually aware woman who hypnotizes all the men around her. Several cast members play a succession of roles; for example, Vin Knight appears as both a pompous European count and a bar owner.
Collins, who also appears as Jake's friend Robert Cohn, encourages exaggerated, cartoonish performances from the actors in the ensemble, most obviously in the smaller roles. (This fits with the fact that Hemingway's characters drink constantly throughout the story; partly filled glasses stand ready on long tables, but they are "refilled" through a stylized process that involves pantomime and appropriate sound effects.)
While Mark Barton's lighting design conveys the shifts in time and location as the characters wander through Paris before heading to Pamplona, Spain, to watch bullfights, sound designers Matt Tierney and Ben Williams provide a cinematic aural background that relies heavily on music, often loud and anachronistic, along with scene-setting sounds such as traffic and roaring, snorting bulls.
Shakespeare Theatre Company