A reprehensibly Hollywood thought enters one's mind when actor Susan Sullivan first appears onstage in this Joanna Murray-Smith play: "Wow, she looks great." There's that lithe bearing, glowing skin, and lustrous hair. But then her seems-to-have-it-all character—a lovely, witty former poet named Honor—is dumped by her naively duped husband after 32 years of marriage. And Sullivan withers, momentarily shrinking and dousing that inner light. That dame can act.
She'd most likely credit her director, Andrew Robinson, with gathering a highly skilled cast and with creating an immaculately detailed world—inner and outer. Honor lives in a book-lined Swedish-modern home (Stephanie Kerley Schwartz), cooking gourmet meals—including one for the ultra-ambitious young writer, Claudia (Kirsten Potter), who is interviewing Honor's husband, Gus, for a piece titled "America's Ten Most Brilliant Thinkers." The brilliant thinker succumbs to Claudia's highly rhetorical seduction, which stuns Honor but even more deeply baffles their daughter, Sophie (Becky Wahlstrom).
The role of Gus is double-cast. On opening night Granville Van Dusen played Gus as a simple man—not by lack of, but rather through, superb technique. His Gus is almost boyish, sunny, cheerily unaware of ramifications. On the following night Robert Foxworth played Gus as darker, not nearly as likeable, less transparent, more Svengali. Van Dusen bumblingly dissembles as he critiques Claudia's attempts at authorship; Foxworth is distractedly unenthusiastic about it. It's possible we perceive differences between the two performances because of the actors' physical dissimilarities: Van Dusen is tall, light, clean-shaven, while Foxworth is more compact, craggier, bearded.
The script is a divine mix of specific and ambiguous, leaving the actors and directors to reveal as much or as little as they wish. With Foxworth, Sullivan's Honor seems warmer, their marriage seems more intimate, and she takes the punches with sardonicism. With Van Dusen, the couple is patently cooler, which adds hints of troubles neither character has wanted to acknowledge. Wahlstrom, who plays the most emotionally healthy character, likewise reflects differently in the lights of the two men: Opposite Van Dusen, Sophie quakes with disbelief at Gus' duplicity, but opposite Foxworth she nonetheless melts with affection. Even Potter's arrogant, self-centered character shows a more avuncular fondness for Foxworth's, a momentary lust for Van Dusen's.
By the play's end, the wordsmiths Honor and Gus communicate in monosyllabic sentence fragments. He's broken, she's reconstructed. Each will go on. But what the married audience members talk about on their drives home would make the more interesting sequels to this virtuoso work.
"Honour," presented by and at the Matrix Theatre, 7657 Melrose Ave., Hollywood. Thu.-Sat. 8 p.m., Sun. 3 p.m. (Sun. Aug. 28, 7 p.m. only). Aug. 27-Nov. 6. $20-25. (323) 852-1445.