Edward Albee's Who's Afraid Of Virginia Woolf, brilliantly dissects two couples' lives right before your very eyes and Mike Leigh's Abigail's Party, does similar, albeit with a few glasses of Blue Nun and a monstrous lead character. Lanford Wilson's 1970 off Broadway play, here revived by the Donmar Warehouse is a curate's egg, as it never hits the heights of these two classics, but it almost does.
The narrative focuses on two Chicago couples as their lives intersect via the male's friendship. Buddies Alex (Jason Butler Harner) and Carl (Jason O'Mara) lead seemingly different lives, as on the surface one is career driven and hard bitten, and the other is a one-time sport's star dealing with his wife's infidelity.
The women, likewise seem poles apart. Alex's wife Gabrielle (Charlotte Emmerson) plays second fiddle to his career, sleepwalks her way through life and plays the 'baby' of the relationship. Mary (Geraldine Somerville) is brittle and out of love with Carl. "I never loved him then, but I love him now....then", she says looking at the failed, drunken man, she calls her husband.
Wilson has a way with words and his loaded language really does make pause for a moment, as it invites you to look beyond the glossy veneer of this quartet's languid lifestyles, albeit momentarily. Alex, for example is such a high flying lawyer that his fillings are temporary, but so is everything in his life. He lives each day like a cat on a hot tin roof and nothing is permanent.
This measured approach works well for a while, but during the first half of the play, your patience is tested as the pace is so leisurely that you could cut twenty minutes and it would have no real impact on the proceedings. Director Simon Curtis certainly ramps up the tension in the second act and therefore gives the audience more food for thought.
The performances are all exemplary, as Butler Harner and O'Mara make a dynamic double act and have excellent chemistry as the pals with so much history, yet a limited future. Emmerson brings texture to a character who intitially is irritating. By the denouement however, you really empathise with her plight. Somerville delivers each line like an arrow with real precision, as you find yourself laughing at her cruel, caustic remarks, as she imbues Mary with so much inner sadness that she is far from a grotesque.
Peter Mackintosh's sumptuous set design adds depth to a play which ticks so many boxes. So, why not a fourth star? Albee's Wolf explored the mindsets of his couples, and granted, Wilson attempts to explain their behaviour but he fails to deliver a satisfying whole, although there is still much to commend here.
Serenading Louie is dark, dangerous and ultimately flawed, but still fascinating to watch.