Although he agreed to revise the screenplay (to his everlasting pecuniary benefit), screenwriter James Dearden always felt uncomfortable about the transformation of Dan to a more likeable guy and Alex to horror-movie harridan. So, after all these years, he decided to write a play more in keeping with his initial full-length film script (which was based on a 1979 short film called Diversion that he wrote and directed).
The new London production is directed by the august Trevor Nunn (of Royal Shakespeare Company renown) but with less incandescent actors: Stage and television star Natascha McElhone (Californication) as Alex; British actor Mark Bazeley (Bourne Ultimatum) as Dan, and Sex and the City’s popular Kristin Davis as devoted wife and mother Beth.
Said Dearden: “[I] wanted to return to my original conception of the characters in a sense to set the record straight. Because while Alex is undeniably borderline psychotic, she is also a tragic figure, worn down by a series of disappointments in love and the sheer brutality of living in New York as a single woman in a demanding career. So whilst remaining faithful to the storyline, I have introduced the ambivalence of my earlier drafts … nobody is entirely right and nobody entirely wrong.”
Actress Close, who initially fought the producers’ changed film ending, also worried in later interviews that her demonic portrayal of Alex had given the audience an unsympathetic view of mental illness. Some feminists fumed at the film’s negative portrayal of a single thirty-something career woman, while men saw it as an infidelity morality tale. In 2008, Close was quoted as saying, "Men still come up to me and say, 'You scared the shit out of me.' Sometimes they say, 'You saved my marriage.' "
Like the film, the play, which we saw during previews, has a certain voyeuristic, centrifugal force. We are drawn, despite ourselves, into the ageless story of adultery in this threatening, unsettling incarnation. McElhone’s Alex now veers between a troubled, fragile character and a vengeful wronged woman. (Spoiler alert: The daughter’s pet bunny is still boiled on the family stove, leading to the term “bunny boiler” for a outraged mistress.)
Bazeley’s Dan is seduced and relentlessly pursued, to be sure, but is untruthful, chauvinistic, and surprisingly unconcerned about his unborn child (conceived in the brief sexual fling with Alex). Dan’s too-perfect wife, a devoted homemaker and fulltime mother in the film, is given a pre-baby career in the play. After Dan reveals the secret affair, Davis’s Beth, smiley and somewhat treacly until then, delivers a bitter speech berating him for betraying her trust after she has sacrificed own career for the family.
Still, like the film, the play is pure melodrama, acted at high volume with no insight into the psychological question at its center. Why does Alex seduce a man wearing a wedding ring, and why is she so obsessed? While married lovers and psychotherapy are mentioned in passing, we learn virtually nothing about her past and have little idea about who she is.