Theatrically it’s as heady as one of Mary’s Sidecar cocktails. Lanford Wilson’s rarely performed dissection of the American middle-class and marriage through two upwardly mobile couples still feels as fresh as when it first sparked into sulphureous life in the early seventies.
Jason O'Mara (Carl) and Geraldine Somerville (Mary) in Serenading Louie at the Donmar Warehouse Photo: Hugo Glendinning
An imaginative blend of naturalism and surrealism, a number of techniques are used to winning effect as the same set doubles for both houses, characters speak over one another in a symphony of words, and even glide into each other’s scenes.
Director Simon Curtis seizes on Wilson’s innovations with relish in a fluid production, even having the individuals speak, on occasions, directly to the audience. This is overdone and should have been used more sparingly, such as the build up to the end when it adds a particular kind of poignancy to the shocking denouement, which is a beautifully structured waltz of despair involving both couples.
Emotionally, however, it’s often as chilly as a wintry Chicago night. While tracking the relationship breakdown of successful 30-somethings Alex (Jason Butler Harner) and Gabrielle (Charlotte Emmerson), Carl (Jason O’Mara) and Mary (Geraldine Somerville), Wilson’s characters never really engage and move us in the same way that those in a Tennessee Williams play do - a playwright Wilson is often compared to - and there is too much saying and not enough doing.
This may also be the fault of a slight detachment in the acting, although the flame-haired Somerville is outstanding as the energetic powerhouse who rules her roost with decided authority.