Fair warning: You’re not going to like Susan Traherne. As the complex heroine of David Hare’s 1978 drama Plenty — now in its first major New York revival at Off Broadway’s Public Theater, the site of its U.S. premiere — she is selfish and self-absorbed, casually cruel, and destroys herself and those around her with almost inconceivable ease.
In other words, Oscar winner Rachel Weisz (The Constant Gardener) has her work cut out for her playing the former French Resistance fighter whose postwar life amounts to a series of letdowns and misfires. Really, once you’ve been a secret agent, can any job, or any man, match that thrill?
An attempt to conceive a child never comes to fruition. A career in advertising turns out to be spectacular mismatch: “To produce what my masters call good copy, it is simply a question of pitching my intelligence low enough,” Susan sighs. And marriage to Brock, a kind but less-than-blazingly-ambitious diplomat (House of Cards’ Corey Stoll, in fine form), ends with him passed out naked on the floor, the victim of a scotch-and-Nembutal cocktail.
Which is where the play begins: in England in 1962, with an unconscious Brock and an about-to-bolt Susan, who, before she leaves, bequeaths the house to her bohemian friend Alice (Emily Bergl) as an unwed mothers’ shelter. Then, flashback to France, 1943, to a teenage Susan in wartime. And so on. In sum, Plenty covers 19 years, three countries, and eight locales in its 12 scenes — and the shifts can be clunky, and lengthy. We’re always vaguely aware of some fuss going on behind the massive wall that bisects Mike Britton’s rotating set.
One constant throughout director David Leveaux’s poorly paced revival: the luminous Weisz, who radiates steely determination and profound intelligence in every scene (and she is in every scene). Even Hare admitted the role is underwritten — “I aimed for a half-filled-in quality…which would give the actress particular freedom,” he said in his 2015 memoir, The Blue Touch Paper. Weisz’s distinct gift is that she gets us thinking about what Hare hasn’t shown. The gaps between are almost as intriguing as the scenes themselves. B