American Players Theatre
5950 Golf Course Road
P.O. Box 819
Spring Green, WI 53588
Box Office: 608-588-2361
Most people know Somerset Maugham for his celebrated novels and stories, but we tend to forget that he was also one of the most popular and important dramatists of his time. Revisiting The Circle, we knew at once that it was perfect for APT: witty, elegant and deftly plotted, its sparkling exterior hiding a tender and occasionally dangerous interior. The play boasts two love triangles, one of the older set, another of the younger. Lady Kitty left her family 30 years ago for a new husband and a new life. But now she's back, second husband in tow, to revisit what she left behind and to find her now-grown son dealing in a triangle of his own. The hall of mirrors that ensues is both funny and alarming, consistently entertaining, and, ultimately, devastatingly wise.
There is a high polish in the writing that gives The Circle a sheen of wit and erudition. Through much of its first act we are comfortably certain we know where we are: in a world of frivolous concerns about nothing much, tempests raging in elegant teapots and much clever talk to amuse us greatly and send us on our way. Then one character dares to bluntly speak a truth and the play pivots away from frivolity and pierces the heart.
Somerset Maugham, both as a masterful novelist and short story writer and as a gay man in a society where that wasn't condoned, knew much about masking, about secret longing, and about finding the courage (and sometimes selfishness) to risk much. He was also a healthy cynic who salted his romance with uncomfortable truths about the ravages time brings to even the most confidently fearless.
At the end of her wonderful novel, Mrs. Dalloway, written at almost exactly the same time, Virginia Woolf writes, "What does the brain matter, compared with the heart?" Maugham's play holds the mirror up and asks us to choose between an orderly, comfortable existence and the precariousness of romance. Why can't one have both, you ask? Why not indeed.
- James Bohnen