Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Albuquerque/Santa Fe

Separate Tables

West End Productions
Review by Rob Spiegel

Also see Dean's review of Under Milk Wood and Rob's review of Atacama

Heaven Phillips,
Matthew Van Wettering, and
Colleen Neary McClure

Photo by Phillip J. Shortell
Separate Tables is the name of two one-act plays by English playwright Terence Rattigan that debuted in London in 1954. The play opened in New York in 1956 and was made into a movie in 1957 starring Rita Hayworth, Deborah Kerr, Burt Lancaster, and David Niven.

In a clever setup, we watch a group of residents of the Beauregard Private Hotel as they live out their dramas during meals and in the hotel lobby. The two acts share most of the same characters, yet each act features two main characters, played in this West End Productions presentation by Heaven Phillips and Matthew Van Wettering. In the first act, Phillips plays Anne Shankland and Van Wettering plays John Malcom. In the second act Phillips plays Sibyl Railton-Bell and Van Wettering plays Major Pollock. In the movie, these characters were played by four different actors, yet in the play, they're presented as dual roles for the same male and female leads.

While the plots are vastly different, there is an underlying consistency that creates a moral backbone revealing the light and wisdom of Miss Cooper (Colleen Neary McClure), the hotel's proprietor. In the first act, she comes to the aid of the troubled Anne Shankland. In the following act, she mitigates the damage that arises from the petty and destructive behavior of Mrs. Railton-Bell (Carolyn Wickwire).

The play was well along before I realized that Miss Cooper is the moral center of the story. The two couples that drive the tension of each act carry all the sparks and drama, but the outcome of the dramatic clash in each act relies on the gentle guidance—soft manipulation—of Miss Cooper. Without giving away too much, keep your eye on Miss Cooper. She's the quiet heart of the play.

As always, James Cady is masterful in his direction. Time after time, Cady delivers superb productions, often involving difficult material (recent productions of The Iceman Cometh at the Vortex and A Member of the Wedding at the Adobe Theater come to mind). Cady has done a solid job of casting and creating a beautiful production here. The set by Petifoger (who also did the lighting) is both lovely and appropriate. The costumes by Carolyn Hogan—Albuquerque's Costume Mistress Extraordinaire—are also great.

The two leads, Phillips and Van Wettering, are in fiery clash during the first act. Van Wettering is absolutely masterful as John Malcom. He well captures Malcom's mad-in-love desperation. Phillips as Anne Shankland matches his intensity line by line. In the second act, each actor plays a completely different personality. Van Wettering does a nice job with the reserved-yet-braggadocian retired military man. Phillips is stunning as Sibyl Railton-Bell, a character who is nearly special-needs in her fragility. Phillips doesn't just play a different personality; she plays a different species. What she develops as Anne is impossible to see in Sibyl.

McClure's Miss Cooper is pitch perfect. She does her magic to guide the other characters with a subtlety that is both gentle and precise. McClure plays Miss Cooper with such a light touch, it would be easy to miss how important she is to the story. Very nicely done. Wickwire is fierce as the pompous and self-righteous Mrs. Railton-Bell. Wickwire is always strong. As Railton-Bell she is mean strong. Terrific.

The balance of the cast includes some Albuquerque classics (Ray Orley and Carolyn R. Ward) as well as some regulars and newcomers, Robin Havens-Parker, Laureen Jehle, Margie Maes, Lars Panaro, and Linda Sklov. They all deliver sparky personality that likely comes from a combination of good writing, deft direction, and good old-fashioned acting. The accents are flawless as far as I could tell. This is likely helped by the dialect coaching from Brits Tim Crofton and Jessica Osbourne. This is an excellent show in all aspects and well deserving of its standing ovations.

Separate Tables, through October 28, 2018, at West End Productions, VSA North Fourth Art Center, 4904 4th St. NW, Albuquerque NM. Performances are at 7:30 pm on Fridays and Saturdays, and 2:00 pm on Sundays. Admission is $22 for online purchases; $20 for ATG members, students, and seniors (62+); and $25 for at-the-door. Tickets can be purchased at or by calling 505-410-8524.