If you're interested in English adultery, here are a few relevant titles: Match Point, Betrayal, The Real Thing, Mouth to Mouth, Closer, House & Garden, The Naïve and Sentimental Lover, Notes on a Scandal, The English Patient, The Wings of the Dove, Private Lives, The Painted Veil and so on. If Americans are obsessed with sex and violence, Britons love to cheat.
But Graham Greene's novel The End of the Affair is exceptional in the genre, and Karla Boos' stage adaptation is superlative. The show, receiving its world premiere with Quantum Theatre, is a fearless gamble for all involved.
Boos is artistic director of Quantum, but not known as a "writer," per se. Director Martin Giles is locally renowned as an actor of dry wit and even cynicism, but Affair is emotional and exposed. And the adulterers in question, Maurice and Sarah, spend entire scenes wearing nothing but their pain. They reveal their bodies to the audience, they read their most private journal entries, and they pray to a God they openly revile. This is a naked production in every way; even Tony Ferrieri's magnificent set looks like a building ripped in half.
The risks all pay off, including the scandalous nude scenes. As the doomed lovers, Tony Bingham and Gayle Pazerski move effortlessly from scene to scene, cemented by James FitzGerald and his five different characters. These are excellent actors telling a soulful tale for 90 uninterrupted minutes. But Greene's story succeeds because it concerns more than soured lust. Affair is about passion, loyalty, spirituality and the spiraling death of the British Empire. As the Germans bomb London to ruins, these lovers aren't just losing each other; they're losing everything. Even armistice offers no comfort.
The biggest risk is for Maurice and Sarah to narrate their lives, as if from the pages of a book. Done poorly, such a play can wallow in wordiness. But, luckily, Maurice is a writer, and he thinks in paragraphs. Sarah is a cerebral thinker who happens to write. If only they read each other sooner, the play might end happily. But Greene's novel was autobiographical: He knew how the affair really ended. And sometimes, tragedy is beautiful.
THE END OF THE AFFAIR continues through Oct. 30. Quantum Theatre at the former Emma Kaufmann Clinic, 3028 Brereton St., Polish Hill. 888-718-4253 or www.quantumtheatre.com