When W. Somerset Maugham’s British war drama For Services Rendered premiered in 1932, it offered unprepared audiences a stark exploration of the enduring consequences of the First World War and a critique of a political system that offered no protection for those who fought for its honor. In its Chicago premiere, presented by the Griffin Theatre Company and directed by ensemble member Robin Witt, this message feels contemporary and urgent.
The postwar plight of the Ardsley family, whose members are attempting to create normalcy amid devastation, is at the center of the play. The family’s composed facade is quickly broken as, through the Ardsley children and their acquaintances, we are given insight into the health and financial circumstances of those who fought, and the ways in which society has forgotten them now that their services are no longer needed. Equally important are those who were left behind, particularly the women whose marriage prospects, identities, and societal roles have been shattered by the war. They must navigate a new way of living in order to rise above their circumstances at home.
Witt’s 12-person ensemble uses every word of the classic script to its collective advantage, carefully playing up the ironic comedy and the implicit vulnerability behind each earnest confession. This, along with their ability to react to each other’s decisions in scene, keeps each arc from feeling too clean and each character from feeling like a product of a far-off time. Despite the size of the ensemble, no player feels insignificant, a testament to each actor’s firm grip on their character’s role in advancing the play’s narrative and its moral. v