Martha Clarke’s Cheri: Majestic Melancholy

Martha Clarke’s Chéri brought me to the Signature Theatre for the first time – what a delightful place!  Smiling, energetic ushers greeted me each step of the way, right up to the bar for a quick pre-show snack.  I enjoyed my hummus pita pack with a glass of Malbec on a big cushy chair accompanied by the gentle strains of a saxophone played by live musicians.

The lush texture of Clarke’s style of work drew me to see Chéri, a love triangle of sorts, between a mother, her son, and her son’s childhood nurse turned lover.  Clarke built the work based on the novel of the same name by Colette.  Clarke placed a pianist on stage to accompany Herman Cornejo, Alessandra Ferri, and Amy Irving in sensual, spiteful melodrama.  Cornejo received a Bessie Award earlier in 2013 and based on this majestically somber portrayal of a spoiled man-child warrants another.  Cornejo stumbled as a man in love into breathtaking pirouettes as he weighed his options (remain unmarried with the woman he loved, marry a woman arranged by his mother, or try to exist in both relationships).  Chéri and Lea (Ferri) make love over and over, relishing each other unabashedly as they slide up and down, over and around each other.  Cornejo twirled Ferri around his shoulders; they pulled and pushed each other against the wall, the mirror; plopped on to the bed, bounced on the table, and lolled across the floor in spurts of passion.

As Charlotte the mother, Irving acted as narrator, periodically interacting and acknowledging the torrid affair taking place around her.  Charlotte counted Lea as employee and friend but inserted her motherly wishes by forcing her son into a marriage to a much younger, wealthier (unseen) woman.  Fresh from his honeymoon, Chéri rushed to resume his affections towards an angrily brittle Lea.  Their final dance together fluctuated between tender affection and frighteningly forceful wrestling.  Unresolved, alone and tormented by visions of his lover in the mirror, Chéri completed his life with a revolver.  Surrounded by the faded opulence crumbled from war, Cheri’s spirit mirrored the gilded edges glimmering in the dark under the glow of candlelit hallways.

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