FLICKER BITS – Judi Dench plays a predatory Lesbian, “Circle” this A.C.T. play in your Datebook

by Buzzin' Lee Hartgrave on January 12, 2007

FLICKER BITS: NOTES ON A SCANDAL

Judi Dench is a scheming viper in this intense film about an art teacher Cate Blanchett at a middle class English Boys School. She is married and has two children. It’s an average marriage to a husband, who is quite a few years older than she is. One sunny afternoon, during the recess time at school, the boys are playing Soccer, There is one boy who is wiser than his years, who takes his shirt off, and with a wry smile on his face he immediately noticed that the Art Teacher was admiring him. He felt the heat on his perfect body and with his perfect eyes – he conveyed that yes, he would be interested.

Like many of the cases of Teachers who have had sex with younger boys – it takes two to tango, and the young men who get involved may actually be the one’s who promote the relationship. And it did get started. First in a back alley near the school, then in the Art Class at school. That is when the trouble begins. Judi Dench, who plays the older, mostly hated teacher at school catches them in the act. It wasn’t too long ago that Dench wrote in her journal how much she admired the new art teacher. Her exact words were “This one is a keeper”. You always feel from the beginning of the movie that the Dench character is a bitter old Spinster, but you only really begin to realize that she too likes younger people, but only females. Granted, they are not 16-years old.

Having seen the two over heated lovers in a comprising position, Dench begins to spin her web. She now has complete control over the art teacher, who is of course fearful that she will lose her job and worse, go to prison. The Dench character is a lonely, manipulative old prune. She secretly spies on the Art Teacher and the young man. She makes her promise that she will never have sex with the boy again, only then will her secret remain safe.

These are mesmerizing performances by a starry cast — Dench, Blanchett, Tom Georgeson, Michael Maloney and Joanna Scanlan and the young Mr. McDreamy (Andrew Simpson). The film based on the novel, is directed with wonderful insight by Richard Eyre and the exhilarating score is just magnificent.

It is fascinating to watch Dench weave her web. She aims to capture her victim (have sex with Blanchett who is vulnerable and beautiful). Dench has some wonderful bitchy lines that are not to be missed. She is thoroughly intriguing. Next time someone throws off some witty, bitchy lines…just say “Oh, that is so Judi Dench.” This film puts her in the class of female villains of all time.

As is my way in reviewing movies, I never tell you the end. But I will say that this is an electrifying epic. Some scenes are very intense and others will raise your blood pressure. “Notes” is a Grand and Juicy film about deep humanity. There is nothing immoral about it – just human frailty. This is surely Judi Dench’s best performance to date.

RATING: FOUR BOXES OF POPCORN!!!! And, what the heck–throw in a candy bar too.

THE CIRCLE AT A.C.T.


Pictured are: Kathleen Widdoes and Allison Jean White. The Circle

SOMERSET MAUGHAM, THE AUTHOR OF THE PARLOUR PLAY ‘THE CIRCLE’ DIED IN 1965. He was one of the most successful writers of his time. This was the time of the Oscar Wilde trials. He was a very ‘closeted man’. But, a year after Maugham’s death, Noel Coward wrote a play , a short one-act called “A Song of Twilight” that ‘outed’ the writer, I’m sure that Maugham would not have been amused.

Although he was married, he did have a lover, the alcoholic Gerald Hexton. He was eighteen years younger than Maugham. Maugham’s wife, a well-known interior decorator found the affair to be intolerable and they divorced. Just before his death Maugham burned all of his unpublished works and pleaded with his friends to burn all of his letters that they received from him.

With all that going on in his life – it’s a wonder that he was able to keep his sense of humor. But he certainly had it in “The Circle”, a wonderful soufflé of wit, manners and fine living among the rich and well dressed.

There is no doubt that there are some extremely funny lines in this play, but to enjoy them the way that Maugham imagined them takes very special acting. In the first act the tall and imposing son (James Waterston) wasn’t as agile at the interpretations as I would like. The way I see the role is more like Wooster of “Wooster and Jeeves” fame. He was upper crust enough, but there were several lines that lost the fun. Waterston, in the first act was playing it very close to the vest. In the final act, he finally started to shoot of some sparks, to my great amusement.

Allison Jean White who plays his bored wife, doesn’t really have many of the witty lines, however she is lovely. Her outfit in the first act really made her a vision in white. So delicate – just like they would be in those days. Anyone have the smelling salts?

Craig Luten is the blonde hunk that the bored wife falls in love with. Not easy to do when people are constantly entering and leaving the magnificent Parlor, card room etc. They do seem to get a few minutes together in the Garden, but hardly enough time to consummate anything. The way Maugham wrote this part is that the blonde dazzler was supposed to be sort of a rogue. Not the type that a society lady would run off with. Some think that the part was modeled after his Alcoholic lover, who you may recall dear reader was a more than a little rough around the edges.

This play is about morals, image and of course money. As the bored housewife is told something like this: “Men control everything. What are you going to live on dear? You have a beautiful house and you have everything you could ever want. You would be insane to leave. This is a very grave decision Dear…think it over.”

In the end, after three acts that moved along faster than I thought they would, it’s the Actors of “A Certain Age” that steal the show. Kathleen Widdoes is just fabulous as the rare beauty who becomes a Plus Size and dyes her hair bright red. “Everyone thinks it is natural dear” – she reveals. She has the comic insight to Maugham’s words. The stage sparkled like a shower of stars when she was around. What a delight. And yes, she did look a little like a leftover drag queen from Finnichio’s in the 70’s. She’s the kind of actress you want to see again. Philip Kerr who plays her former husband (They are the parents to the son) is a jolly guy. He is always happy and seems to like everyone. Again, he made the part his own and played it to perfection.

Her live in boyfriend (Ken Ruta) of many years after she left the Kerr character is another person of “A Certain Age”. Ruta, is an actor who you can always depend on to fit right into the role. It’s uncanny how he just seems to grow a new skin. Having seen him over the years, I can honestly say that I have never been disappointed in anything that he has done. He really gives a dynamic, fun-filled turn that takes you from grumpy to charming. Well, he does play an English Lord you know. What else would you expect from royalty.

Imaginative direction by Mark Lamos gives it a special gloss. The scenery by John Arnone is great. Let me say that it looks nothing like my Apartment. The period perfect costumes by Candice Donnelly have you longing to go back to that time in space. York Kennedy, the lighting designer’s effects are magical and sumptuous.

“The Circle” is pure Theater-going bliss. At the A.C.T Geary Theater.

RATING: FOUR GLASSES OF CHAMPAGNE!!!! And fill em’ up to the brim!

The Photo of Lee Hartgrave Boy Reporter is by Jim Ferreira – Film Noir & Hollywood Glamour. www.lafterhall.com.

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Buzzin’ Lee Hartgrave

Buzzin’ Lee Hartgrave is a longtime theater critic in the San Francisco Bay Area. His reviews appear each Friday in Beyond Chron.

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