Ah, the days when people made love on paper; a difficult thing to do, according to Simone de Beauvoir (to say nothing of the paper cuts. But we’re talking love letters here). Chronicling the long-distance amour between French existentialist de Beauvoir and American novelist Nelson Algren, Transatlantic Liaison recalls the days of such missives in scratchy-records-and-swilled-scotch detail. Inspired in part by the letters de Beauvoir wrote Algren over 17 years, Fabrice Rozié’s play describes an often torrid and sometimes bitter love, soured by the physical distance and the ever present specter of Jean Paul Sartre who de Beauvoir refused to leave alone in France, to marry Algren.
Thus, “transatlantic”. Thus, bitterness cutting through ecstasy. Thus, drama that inspires interest and plays decades after its culmination.
It happens to make a fine production, thanks in no small part to the performances. Elizabeth Rohan effectively plays the fervent de Beauvoir-in-love to Matthew S. Tompkins’s mostly deadpan tough guy Algren; their saga punctuated by the moody cello playing behind a scrim, the costume changes so fluid the scene shifts appear to be film cuts. Much of the dialogue comes from the letters; in them, we see glimpses of the philosophies that made de Beauvoir’s name plus loads of feral passion as Rohan writhes on the stage in rapture that comes from good sex remembered. Viewers not up on their existentialist circle gossip will miss the juicy subtext but even without that, Transatlantic Liaison is still a solid love story with plenty of sizzle.