This review of Simon Gray's Quartermaine's Terms at Studio Theatre Long Island was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 7 (2017) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!
Written by Simon Gray
Directed by David Dubin
Studio Theatre Long Island
141 South Wellwood Avenue
Lindenhurst, New York 11757
British author Simon Gray wrote Quartermaine's Terms, which won The Cheltenham Prize in 1982. In January 1983, it opened at New Haven's Long Wharf Theatre before being transferred to Playhouse 91 in Manhattan in February of that same year. The story takes place over a three-year period in the early 1960s at a small school in Cambridge that teaches English as a second language to foreign students. The play is exclusively set in that school's Staff Room, where we are introduced to seven teachers, including St. John Quartermaine, a bachelor who has been teaching at the school for many years. St. John (pronounced Sin Jin) is a good chap with a cheery disposition who exhibits all the good manners of a proper English gentleman. He is relied upon by his fellow workers as a dependable dinner companion and babysitter. Unfortunately, this overweight man who, for obvious reasons, is more comfortable sitting in the lounge's easy chair, has been having more "senior moments" lately and has been nodding off more regularly. He has even missed a class or two and the quality of his lectures has suffered accordingly. When the end is near, St. John tries on an old tuxedo he found in a stored trunk. It's quite tight and reflects the fact that his glory days have long past. Unfortunately, St. John will be fighting no more wars and will find there is no place for him in the new order of things.
Many have interpreted this story to be about loneliness but I see it as an analogy for the decline of the British Empire and the moral corruption that has accompanied that decline. St. John Quartermaine (Frank Tangredi) represents the best England has to offer - he is a good friend, a supportive employee with pride in the school, who is open-minded, always willing to lend a hand, and committed to living life to the fullest. As he says, "one must have a go with everything." However, St, John, just like England, has grown tired, fat and lethargic. British citizens, represented by characters on and off the stage, represent the moral and intellectual decline of British subjects, soon to be displaced by the Japanese and Germans, the prominent nationalities of the students at the school. Mark Sackling (Scott McIntyre) and Anita Manchip (Carolyn Popadin) are both having trouble with their marriages. Nigel, Anita's husband, fails to make a go of a new literary magazine. Melanie Garth (Staci Rosenberg-Simons) may have murdered her mother and unfairly blames Derek Meadle (Michael Cesarano) for having torn out the page of a precious book lend to her by Thomas, the partner of Eddie Loomis (Ralph Carideo), who is the principal of the school. Ironically, Henry Winscape (Timothy F. Smith), the Academic Tutor, has a daughter who eventually has a mental breakdown and commits suicide because of her failure to get the grades she had hoped for. Derek is the opposite of an English gentleman. He speaks ill of his fellow workers, is accident-prone, and is a chatter-box. Eddie, as the principal, tries to maintain standards and views every employee as "family." He has contemplated firing St. John Quartermaine, but decided against it because, as he says, "If we turned St. John out, where would he go." Henry, when he becomes principal, has no such loyalty to St. John and eventually tells him, quite bluntly, "There is no room for you here anymore."
That pronouncement is quite accurate. Given the academic and moral decline of England, there is no more room for a proper gentleman. As mentioned earlier, the tuxedo has long since been stored away and it no longer fits anyway. Old, senile, overweight and tired, the glory of the British Empire is just a memory. When finally recognizing this, St. John Quartermaine's restrained response is simply to say, "Oh Lord, I say, Oh Lord." The sun has set on the Empire and nothing will ever be the same.
All of the actors in this play are highly professional and perfectly cast for the roles they play. The writing is crisp and the characters are all well-developed. There are a few laughs here and there but Quartermaine's Terms is primarily a drama. It is interesting and engrossing. What appears to be a "slice-of-life" play actually can be viewed and analyzed on a number of levels and from various perspectives. I highly recommend you see it. For more information about Studio Theatre Long Island, visit www.StudioTheatreLI.com or call 631-226-8400.