No one other than someone named Simon Gray could have written Quartermaine's Terms. Its plot is simple, and its tenor reflects the monochromatic, post-imperial patina of Britain. Like his good friend Harold Pinter, Gray's work is deceptively uneventful and his humor dry. Below the surface, however, there are a host of colorful emotions going unexpressed.
St. John ("Sin-Jin" as they say with stiff upper lips) Quartermaine is a pleasant, but ungifted chap who teaches at the Cull-Loomis School of English for Foreigners, Cambridge. But while his co-workers who suffer this daily drudgery alongside him have lives, Quartermaine does not; they go on holidays, have affairs, raise babies, suffer tragedies, and even murder, while Quartermaine literally sleeps at his desk.
|(Left to right) Chuck Wigginton|
as St. John Quartermaine
and Fred Lewis as Henry Windscape
Yet Quartermaine is the only one among them that listens and takes a genuine interest in what they do. He compliments Anita, holds intelligent conversations with Mark, and, for the most part, makes a sincere effort at reaching out. Yet to no avail. Even when his world appears to have shifted, and he is invited to spend some time with each of his common room acquaintances, we find it is only for their own selfish purposes that they require his presence. The Queen herself, whose presence looms over the proceedings from a perch above the mail boxes, can't bear to look, as director Ed Baierlein obscures her view with the proverbial potted palm in the second act.
Like his American counterpart, Willy Loman, for whom a smile and a handshake no longer sustained business relationships, St. John Quartermaine is from a different era, when propriety, the right tweed, and a well-trimmed moustache carried the day.
As always, director Ed Baierlein imprints his inimitable minimalist style and elocutionary exactitude on a talented cast who, in Germinal Stage's intimate setting, make a raised eyebrow mean something: Chuck Wigginton keeps Quartermaine on an even-keel throughout, providing a ballast against the crests and troughs of his fellow teachers' lives; Jenny MacDonald gives us glimpses of the steely will behind Anita Manchip's proper façade—retrieving a husband adrift, then casting him into the sea; Mark K. Moran's Mark Sackling is an acerbic, aspiring novelist with nothing kind to say, who, without a book contract, bitterly accommodates a career of pedantry; David Fenerty morphs Eddie Loomis, one of the owners of the establishment, from a steady, soft-spoken, and occasionally catty, captain through a series of debilitations that leave him a broken-down retiree, all within a brief two and one-half year plot line; Todd Webster's Derek Meadle, is the accident prone newcomer on the other end of the career arc who eventually finds stability in a fulltime contract and steady girl with her own disabilities; Fred Lewis is the supercilious and long-winded Henry Windscape whose clockwork life, though not without its set-backs, defines the bourgeois life; and Suzanna Wellens' Melanie Garth, serves as an antithesis to Henry by marking time through complete personality overhauls, from a dutiful, then resentful daughter, to a fundamentalist repentant, and finally a mod drug addict.
|(front to rear) Fred Lewis|
as Henry Windscape,
as Melanie Garth,
and Chuck Wigginton
as St. John Quartermaine
Though, on the surface, an amusing and seemingly innocent look at British middle-class life in the early '60's, Gray's story could just as easily take place in any contemporary American workplace where interpersonal connectedness is lost among the vagaries of business cycles and egocentric eccentricities.
Germinal Stage Denver's production of Simon Gray's Quartermaine's Terms runs through May 7th. 303-455-7108.