A touch of class

Book-It courts Lady Chatterley's Lover.


Seattle Center House, Performance Studio, 325-6500, $17.25- $19 7:30 p.m. Thurs.- Sat.; 2 p.m. matinees Sun. ends Sun. Oct. 7.

BOOK-IT’S Lady Chatterley’s Lover is naked in many ways. In the hands of director Mary Machala and a compassionate cast, D.H. Lawrence’s story of a wealthy woman’s lust and love for her groundskeeper blossoms into everything beautiful Lawrence would most surely like us to receive from his garden of delights. With a bare, unpretentious elegance, the production uncovers the harmful rigidity of the class system, a plea for emancipated sexuality, and a contemplation of how the brutal vagaries of the world will crush what is best and most enduring in us unless we have the honesty to look at ourselves and each other without agenda.

Lawrence’s tale concerns Constance Chatterley (Jennifer Sue Johnson), living a monotonous, sexless existence in England with the deadened soul that is her war-wounded husband, Clifford (Daniel Harray), until she is awakened to the possibilities of living by an affair with groundskeeper Oliver Mellors (Michael Patten).

The first act has to deal with Book-It’s constant challenge of enlivening basic narration and rises winningly to the task. Machala and John Vreeke’s adaptation highlights character intricacies and pulls off expansive bits of cunning invention—a long piece of narrative description about Clifford’s devoted nurse, Mrs. Bolton (a cagey, touching Julie Jamieson), is put into her own mouth and turned into a gossipy, comic little tour-de-force.

The various British accents here tend to be a bit chewy—we’re seeing an awful lot of teeth—but either your ear relaxes as the evening goes on or the accents do because you’re not thinking about them after very long. Harray is dead-on in capturing the fearfulness of an embittered man, and a robust James Newman as Constance’s generous father and, particularly, Susanna Wilson as her supposedly liberated sister, Hilda, create equally vivid, whole people. Despite an initial tendency to search too hard for humor in Lawrence’s ponderings (Connie’s first reaction to spotting a shirtless Oliver washing himself is overstated), the show’s reach is impressive.

What caps the success here is the evening’s unencumbered human poetry. Each halting sex scene builds on the one before it with erotic compulsion. Johnson and Patten are heartbreaking and move like dancers; a scene of their intimate playfulness contains the most genuinely carefree handling of nudity you can witness on stage. The experience gives you a grateful appreciation of the transforming powers of passionate tenderness. “Can a touch last so long?” Connie asks Mrs. Bolton, who is lost in the memory of a beloved husband. “Oh, my lady,” she replies, “What else is there to last?”