Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

August 16, 2009

Quartermaine's Terms

Williamstown Theatre Festival, Williamstown, MA
through August 23, 2009
by Meghan Lynn Allen

It's the 1960's in Cambridge, England and the opening school year bell is about to ring. "Quartermain's Terms" by Simon Gray is a play which focuses on the teachers, not the students, at this "school for foreigners," and specifically St. John Quartermaine - a drab, dull, lonely character who can barely muster the energy to rise from his chair each morning, never mind develop a curriculum for his students or car about their futures. Though he is the title character, he is a pathetic suggestion of a man who makes little to no choices throughout the play, which makes it difficult to care about him in any. Perhaps this is what Gray aims to satire in his piece, but it somehow misses the mark. In fact, it is difficult to care about any of the eccentric characters that the audience is presented with throughout this play.

Jefferson Mays plays Quartermaine assumingly quite to the tee - expressionless, hazy, vacant, and confused. Though Mays is obviously deeply talented, it is still impossible to care enough to be drawn into Quartermaine's world. Morgan Hallett portrays smart, young professor Anita Manchip. Hallett provides a bright, fun energy on stage through Manchip's two pregnancies and hinted at personal troubles with her husband, though the audience never learns enough about that relationship to appreciate its impact. Jeremy Beck play Derek Meadle, the brightest light on stage, in part because Gray writes him to be the fast-paced, funny, fool, who is in many ways the underdog and the hero of the piece. Beck adds life and energy to the stage every time he enters it and perfectly finds the balance between being the buffoon and growing into the leading man. Tony-nominated director Maria Aitken does her best to bring this tedious British piece to life, but is seems that Gray may not have provided enough on the page to work with.

"Quartermain's Terms" seems an odd, depressing choice to end Williamstown Theatre Festival's 55th season. Here's looking to next year.