Writer: Edith Wharton
Adaptation: Hugh Leonard
Director: Michael James Ford
Reviewer: Alan Foran
With the sun splitting the sky once again, it was not hard to imagine how a warm afternoon in Rome might feel. Thankfully, there was ice tea on offer to accompany this brilliant slice of theatre from the pen of the master, Hugh Leonard.
Against a back drop of the coliseum, two wealthy American widows, and lifelong friends, take a breather from their visit to 1930s Rome, a place they have visited before when young and in love, and this time wondering how their daughters will fare. It is this look to the future that reminds them of the past, and their meaning of Roman fever. As they chat, with one working away at her knitting throughout, this past unfolds piece by piece, through wonderfully natural dialogue. What emerges from this is something that has lived within their friendship, contaminated it in some ways, during the longevity of their lives so far.
This emergence and the tension it releases is created slowly, subtly, a joy to watch through a masterclass in acting: facial expressions and silences tell us more than words can. Karen Ardiff and Maria Tecce deliver two terrific performances that unveil the ordinariness of the characters and situation, and yet never lose control even when the claws are out. The skilled actors still portray the emotion, the real feeling behind it all, and this makes the bitchiness seem harsher. You could not imagine any others playing these finely tuned rôles.
The ordinary and the harshness is part of the Leonard cannon, and director Michael James Ford lets both emerge without going to the extreme, using the space well and truly transporting us from time and place. The design by Jack Kirwan is perfect, a couple of tables and some chairs, dressed simply yet effectively, and there we are: a terrace in a Roman restaurant.
All this blends into a delicious piece of theatre, that while remaining natural, delivers a wonderfully satisfying punch. This is genuine quality. It is great that venues such as Bewley’s Cafe Theatre gives these wonderfully crafted one act plays a place to be seen in and this is a wonderful example of Irish writing and Irish theatre and not to be missed. A great way to spend lunchtime.