Adapted and directed by Lucia Cox
Based on a short novel by Anthony Burgess, this mordant take on middle class life in postwar Britain seeks to examine the impact of consumerism on the machinations of everyday life and love. It’s a provocative topic. Yet, despite meticulous direction, acting and design, ONE HAND CLAPPING only partially succeeds.
Used car salesman Howard Shirley (Oliver Devoti) is afflicted with what we would call today mild autism. He’s compulsive about everything from the order of the books on to his shelves to his doom-and-gloom pronouncements on the state of the word. Luckily, there’s another, more useful aspect to the specialness of Howard’s mind. He has a photographic memory, which enables him to win big on a popular quiz show. He parlays his winnings into an even bigger fortune as he discovers he also has a knack for picking horses at the track. At Howard’s insistence, his wife Janet (Eve Burley) quits her supermarket job and the two go on a luxurious trip around the world. At first, having money to spend is fun for the young couple, but problems still persist. Howard’s depression worsens. And Janet, weary of her husband’s rigidity, runs into the bohemian arms of writer Redvers Glass (Adam Urey), whom Howard has commissioned to write a poem. Janet’s zest for life and Howard’s misanthropy inevitably clash, leading to alarming consequences.
The show gets off to an intriguing start, but runs out of energy as it struggles to line up its satirical tone with a worthwhile target. Janet’s unsophisticated narration often seems designed to provoke derisive, rather that empathic laughter. And though the actors give sincere and committed performances, the characters nonetheless come off sounding like ideas rather than real people. The script makes a few valid (if obvious) points about the vulgarization of modern culture. But Burgess sprays his vitriol too indiscriminately, and with scant wit. The production values, on the other hand, are impressively rich. Director/adaptor Lucia Cox and designer Meriel Pym have created a visually arresting world in which both the domestic coziness and the underlying creepiness of the Cold War era come vividly to life. It would be wonderful to see them apply their considerable talents to more worthy source material. ONE HAND CLAPPING continues at 59E59 Theaters through May 31, 2015. 59 East 59th Street, between Park and Madison. Tickets 212-279-4200.