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A CurtainUp Review
Intrigue With Faye
By Elyse Sommer
The integration of videos with what's happening on stage adds considerable panache to Kate Robin's story of a contemporary relationship threatened by mistrust and each partner's insecurity issues. The unraveling of Lissa (Julianna Margulies ) and Kean's (Benjamin Bratt) four-year living together arrangement is also enlivened by Ms. Robin's crisp dialogue and some genuine insights into the never fully unpacked baggage people bring into their relationships. But it's the use of the video tape recorders that provides the real intrigue for Intrigue With Faye.
The conceit of the way Lissa and Kean (why do writers feel compelled to give common names like Lisa and Ken these romance novel twists?) attempt to resolve the crisis of faith in their relationship is that they decide to do so with the aid of a video camera. Far-fetched and full of potential credibility gaps as this idea is, Ms. Robin has seen to it that it's less so here since video taping is part of both Lissa and Kean's professional lives. She tapes her sessions as a therapist as a tool for being evaluated by her superiors. He is a documentary filmmaker.
Director Jim Simpson smartly gets the play going by introducing us to the troubled couple via the large screen at the rear of the stage. In short, it begins just like a movie -- a brief preview of Margulies and Bratt on their way to the play's apartment setting, followed by the title and credits. Then the focus shifts from screen to stage and the filmed scenario and continues live and on stage. The switch of focus not only transfers our attention to the flesh and blood actors but immediately reveals the false first impression of the couple as passionate lovers. Kean is more interested in checking his mail than completing the love scene, leaving Lissa not only angry but beset by intense stomach pains which seem a common , stress-induced occurrence.
As the amusing script makes immediately plain, these two bright and attractive lovers are hardly walking advertisements for well adjusted personalities or the happily-ever-after possibilities of co-habitation instead of a legal marriage. If it's not very credible that these extremely verbal people have waited four years to discuss the issues now dissected in great detail, well, this IS a play and there wouldn't be one without some suspension of disbelief. At any rate, the argument ensuing from the initially short-stopped sexual encounter prompts Kean to try making a point, first by re-playing a conversation he's taped with a recorder hidden in a ficus tree, and then with a segment of one of her video taped sessions (Michael Gaston as a male client and the first of five video appearances by well-known actors). While Lissa understandably takes umbrage at this unethical behavior, we soon see her agreeing to "give up lying for Lent" which will take the form videotaping their every move in the interest of more truthfulness and trust. They even make up a formal contract which reads: "I the undersigned, do hereby swear to give up lying to others and/or myself for the remaining thirty days of Lent. After which time it will be determined whether or not I am capable of change."
While it's unlikely that this high tech style of self-therapy will reverse the high rate of couple split-ups, Robin does make some salient observations about self-delusion, neediness and openness or lack of same between people committed to each other. Ultimately, it's the videos that make for the best and most entertaining parts of the play: a funny segment in which a doctor colleague (Craig Bierko) beats an embarrassed retreat when Lissa -- the video running -- talks with him about the sexual attraction that Kean perceived in a slide of their interaction at a conference on depression. . .several meetings between Kean and a film hair stylist (Jenna Lamia) and a film maker (Gretchen Mol) . . . another therapeutic counselling session, this time with a compulsive wife and her husband (Swoosie Kurtz and Tom Noonan).
Margulies and Bratt, both of whom have plenty of experience being before a camera, are well cast in these on and off-screen parts, though they throw off no slam-bang romantic sparks In many ways their characters, like those in MCC's previous two-hander, The Mercy Seat, are not especially sympathetic though the ending does make us warm towards both. Nonetheless, I left the theater unconvinced that this relationship will ever be sufficiently problem free to endure.
With all the talk that propels this story there are also some unmentioned concerns that beg at least some dialogue. When Lissa prepares to move out , for example, there's no mention of who holds the lease on this apartment or where she will live. In real estate conscious New York this is not a trivial oversight. Another missing bit of dialogue or, at least a bit of stage business, relates to the not easy to miss fish tank which Ricardo Hernandez has included in the apartment's furnishings. Perhaps the playwright and director felt this was a free-standing visual metaphor for two people who are swimming in a sea of unresolved problems, but during the play's slow stretches, I found myself waiting for Lissa or Kean to make some reference to why and how they acquired their aquarium or at least make a move to feed the fish. But then, maybe the metaphor is really about how those fish are meant to be starving for food as their owners are starved for true affection -- and we're left starved for a play not quite as dependent on those videos for freshness.
LINKS TO OTHER REVIEWS OF THE 2003 MCC SEASON
The Mercy Seat
Mendes at the Donmar
At This Theater
Leonard Maltin's 2003 Movie and Video Guide
Ridiculous!The Theatrical Life & Times of Charles Ludlam
Somewhere For Me, a Biography of Richard Rodgers
The New York Times Book of Broadway: On the Aisle for the Unforgettable Plays of the Last Century
6, 500 Comparative Phrases including 800 Shakespearean Metaphors by CurtainUp's editor.
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