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Elective Affinities (2011)

ELECTIVE AFFINITIES Zoe Caldwell
Image credit: Brigitte Lacombe
ELECTIVE AFFINITIES Zoe Caldwell
EW's GRADE
B+

Details Opening Date: Dec 02, 2011

If you're one of the very select few to score an invite to the immersive theatrical event Elective Affinities — and at this point, you'd probably have to know one of the co-producers (Soho Rep, piece by piece productions, and Rising Phoenix Repertory), make a very generous donation to someone extremely well-connected, or pay a Book of Mormon-size premium — here's a bit of advice: Dress smartly — the hostess is in a classic black pantsuit, pearl torsade, and vintage brooch, and she just might comment on your attire! — and avoid the lavender chamomile tea (it tastes like perfume).

Incidentally, expect an invite rather than a traditional ticket. You won't know the precise location until Mrs. Alice Hauptmann sends you an elegantly scripted electronic dispatch the morning of your attendance. Alice, played by Zoe Caldwell, asks only 30 people each night (through Dec. 18) to her stately Upper East Side town house. There she serves tea, sans sympathy, and delivers a roughly 30-minute monologue on such subjects as marriage, modern art, and torturing political prisoners.

Though David Adjmi's social satire was commissioned by London's Royal Court Theatre and originally performed on a stage, most of Elective Affinities' appeal lies in its wonderfully intimate setting: the white marble spiral staircase and crystal chandeliers, the ceremonial ladyfingers and crustless cucumber sandwiches, the butler who ushers everyone into an elegantly appointed sitting room. When you're cozied up on a loveseat and proffered chocolates, it's much easier to digest conversation like: ''But I mean this whole discourse on human rights — the whole thing is sort of a joke, isn't it?... As if all human beings have some innate value.'' And there's something undeniably thrilling about watching Caldwell from 2, 4, or even 10 feet away. The four-time Tony winner is still completely commanding at age 78 even with a script in front of her (she'll be using it the entire run, and, oddly, it's not at all a distraction). She's an absolute marvel.

I almost wished I could spend more than 30 minutes with Alice, or that she'd join us for the post-show wine-and-cheese reception. Then again, characters like her are probably best enjoyed in small, carefully measured doses.

(Tickets: HauptmannResidence.com or 212-352-3101)

Originally posted Dec 02, 2011