Being Fearless About Coward

By Christopher Wallenberg
27 Sep 2010

Indeed, Rice coyly suggests her own personal identification with Brief Encounter. "Ooh, I wonder if it was being married and being unfaithful?" she says. "I was married, and I fell in love [with someone else]. The ending of my story was a very different ending, because I'm of a different generation."

While divorce may have been more taboo in the early 20th century (the play is set in 1938), Rice believes "the dilemma and the seriousness of what to do in that situation remains exactly the same. It's absolutely true that in society we have more choices today. But the emotions involved in making those choices are absolutely unchanged and just as terrible and difficult."

The show's enchanting, luminously theatrical bells and whistles offer a striking (and deeply moving) contrast to the would-be lovers, who bottle up their feelings for one another, with only little bursts of their true desires breaking out from under the placid surfaces. And while there's plenty of winking visual irreverence in the show, Rice's production treats the central love story with absolutely conviction. That's true, too, of the two other couples in the show, whose stories are a bit more lighthearted, if no less fraught with emotion.

"Look how deeply we feel. There aren't many adults who haven't experienced those same feelings that these couples in the show experience," Rice says. "In many ways, it's essential to the human condition — those powerful feelings balanced with what's right, or what's kind, or what's possible, these things that we wrestle with all the time. But I still think you can have fun and delights. And I don't think that's subversive. I think that's what life is. It's very serious and very funny, all at the same time."