lessons from Madame Melville
By Jack Zink
Nelson's drama Madame Melville is a recent riff on
the theme of student-teacher relationships, often
explored and occasionally enlightening on the stage,
the page and the screen. Nelson's mildly intriguing
spin is a 75-minute tryst whose most notable attribute
is its succinctness: When a spoiled American brat
in Paris loses his composure in a pubescent passion
for his worldly, emotionally needy teacher, that's
more than enough time to cover all the angles.
Rafael de Acha plays all the notes in Nelson's simple
romantic melody. His New Theatre design team also
gives the tale a suitably amorphous, dream-state quality
-- especially Michael McKeever's set, a scuffed low-rent
evocation of the draped curtains and overstocked bureaus
of Bob Crowley's 1987 Broadway set for Les Liaisons
Dangereuses (later copied for Andrew Lloyd Webber's
Aspects of Love).
Connors is Madame Melville, more casually known to
her intimates as Claudie, a free-spirited, middle-aged
divorcee who treats her students to field trips to
the cinema, museums and back to her apartment for
discussion. Connors' performance is tight-lipped,
as much to maintain discipline over a French accent
as to suggest the sting of the character's latest
romantic defeat. She's in the ideal psychological
state to succumb to temptation, which 16-year-old
Carl eagerly, and clumsily, provides.
Alex Weisman, in his third New Theatre appearance
in recent years, portrays the boy as a quietly calculating
and unabashedly selfish opportunist. This is good
for clouding the issue over who is using whom and
for what, but it frosts the warm-fuzzy memory play
that author Nelson seemingly intends.
boy makes his move one day after the other students
have trotted home from an artistic round table in
Madame's living room. Connors' performance is as aware
as it is susceptible; she lets him know she's on to
him, gives him a chance to back off, then succumbs
to her own curiosity.
affair lasts a few days and piques the interest of
Claudie's next-door neighbor and confidante Ruth,
played by Barbara Sloan as another lost American.
With Ruth onstage, the sexual tension relaxes and
Madame Melville can indulge in some bawdy humor before
Claudie has to punch the ticket for young Carl's rite
of passage. Then they're off, and Carl is left with
enough memories for a write-in to Penthouse magazine's
letters section, the pinnacle of late-20th century
male fantasy fulfillment. Or a one-act play.
seriously, the most important thing to know about
Madame Melville is that you could choose a lot worse
-- the stage version of The Graduate, for instance.
© 2003, South Florida Sun-Sentinel
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