Rare Pirandello with a brilliant performance from John McMar
Alan | New York, NY | 08/28/2007
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Pirandello's "The Rules of the Game," which has nothing to do with the Renoir film of the same title, is a relatively minor entry in the Pirandello canon but it's still an intriguing and effective play.
This TV production, originally presented on PBS's Theater in America series, was based on a stage production by the Phoenix Repertory Company that played on Broadway in 1974. (And how sad is it that it's been so long since PBS has had anything like the Theater in America series?)
The main characters are Silia (Joan van Ark), who is having a long-term affair with Guido (David Dukes), while remaining obsessed with her estranged husband, Leone (John McMartin) As part of their separation agreement (this being Italy and there being no possibility of divorce), Leone must visit Silia every evening for a half-hour.
Leone has decided that the best way to win what he refers to as "the game" is to drain himself of all painful emotions and to give in without argument to what others request of him. By continually agreeing to all of Silia's requests, including when she requested a separation, he frustrates her will, which is why she remains obsessed with him.
The play has a couple of plot twists that are fairly predictable, but what makes it a pleasure is Pirandello's language, which comes through effectively even in translation. (The William Murray translation is used.) And Pirandello provides dramatic situations that give good actors a lot to work with.
As Leone, John McMartin is particularly fascinating, finding ways to make Leone seem somewhat passive while subtly (and sometimes not so subtly) tormenting Silia and Guido. That fine actor David Dukes (who died far too young) provides an excellent foil for McMartin. They play their scenes beautifully.
Joan van Ark, who had been a late replacement for Mary Ure in the stage production, doesn't inhabit Silia's mix of sensuality, sadism, and neediness as fully as she might, but she's generally sound and sometimes more than that.
The supporting cast (including Charles Kimbrough, perhaps best known as Jim Dial on "Murphy Brown," in a fairly important supporting role, and Glenn Close, listed prominently on the DVD case, in a tiny role) is excellent, though it's a little strange that while most of the cast speak in more-or-less standard American stage speech, a couple seem to be trying to sound vaguely Italian.
The play was a cut a bit to fit into a 90-minute TV time slot, but the cutting was done skillfully. I question how McMartin was directed to play the final moments (going way beyond what is suggested in the script), but this DVD is an excellent way to experience this rarely seen Pirandello play. And except perhaps for those final moments, McMartin gives a superb and fascinating performance."