The long-delayed Los Angeles premiere of David Hare’s “The Secret Rapture” was worth the wait. Director Stephen Tobolowsky has staged a superbly subtle production of this complex and fascinating 1988 drama at Theatre 40.
As with much of Hare’s work, “Rapture” can come across as politically shrill and dramatically overwrought. But Tobolowsky downplays such flaws, unveiling the play’s many strengths.
The story focuses on two very different sisters: Isobel (Ann Hearn), a gentle soul who runs the small publishing company established by their late father, and Marion (Carlyle King), an ambitious politician who has worked her way up to junior minister level in the conservative government.
When Marion proposes that she and her husband Tom, a born-again Christian entrepreneur, take over the business, Isobel hesitates. They could infuse the small firm with capital for expansion; on the other hand, they would also assume control. At the urging of her lover and business partner, Irwin, Isobel gives in — only to realize her worst fears.
Isobel is a genuinely, unswervingly good person, and her goodness makes everyone around her uncomfortable. She never judges, but the selfless choices she makes force those around her to examine their own more expedient courses of action.
In lesser productions, Hare’s characters can come across as little more than embodiments of certain political positions or moral attitudes. It is a compliment to this cast that, here, each is a believable human being. Hearn, who has the toughest role, beautifully conveys Isobel’s determination and confusion.
In both looks and attitude, King is a dead ringer for a young Margaret Thatcher; it’s hard to imagine that role played more convincingly. Rachel Davies manages to make Katherine, the alcoholic ex-wife of Marion and Isobel’s father, both infuriating and sympathetic.
The one disappointing element of the production is the set, which appears to consist of garage-sale furniture. Francine Lecoultre’s costumes nicely help define the characters, and Debra Garcia Lockwood’s lighting is a major factor in the production’s eerily seductive atmosphere.