The Circle

This 1921 chestnut on marriage and its pitfalls gets livelier in its second act

The arrival of Lady Kitty and Lord Porteous at the end of the first act breathes much-needed life into this numbingly static production of W. Somerset Maugham's 1921 chestnut on marriage and its many pitfalls. As the Lord and his mistress, Ken Ruta and Kathleen Widdoes throw themselves with gleeful abandon into the struggles of a 30-year love affair that didn't have the common decency to die when they were both still fresh and vital. The more they bicker, the more you wish they wouldn't leave the room, for when they do the air is sucked out along with them, and you're left with a bunch of sincere young people whose own love problems aren't nearly as engaging. Maybe this is Maugham's point, that only with age do we understand the price of the passions we were so eager to succumb to when we were young. Or maybe it's simply that messy and vibrant characters will win our sympathy over virtuous and dull ones, no matter their (or our) age. Molly Rhodes

Details

Through Feb. 4 at the American Conservatory Theater, 415 Geary (between Mason and Taylor), S.F. Tickets are $13.50-80; call 749-2228 or visit www.act-sf.org.

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