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A CurtainUp Review
Fault Lines

Hi, Jess, I'm Joe — Joe
Hi — Jess
I'm an old friend of these guys. (off her look) I'm kidding. I'm a weird stranger. — Joe
L to R: Dominic Fumusa, Noah Emmerich, Josh Lucas and Jennifer Mudge (Photo: Carol Rosegg)
A concerted gasp comes from the audience about half way through Fault Lines, a new play by Stephen Belber. A little later the audience responds with an even louder gasp by another revelation calculated to surprise us. What could be more fun than being totally unprepared for a shocking revelation, or simply being out-smarted by a playwright who can cause that kind of response? But what about a play that is both credible and preposterous at the same time? Then this one is for you.

To toy with the fickleness of friendship and the fragility of the marital state is not an especially original idea, but it is just that idea of toying that supports the cruel intentions as well as the truth seeking among friends. Under the taut direction of David Schwimmer, Belber's riveting play defies expectations at every turn. . Schwimmer, who is known both as an actor (The Caine Mutiny Court Martial on Broadway) and as a director (co-founder of Chicago.s Looking Glass Theater) has picked four exceptional actors as well as picked a darn good play.

At first all seems more than a little predictable. We are even informed by the show's hype that the action occurs during an ordinary night out for two friends, and how their relationship is suddenly threatened by the appearance of a stranger. Of course, Belber's game plan is devious but it delivers the goods, as it provides an ample amount of suspense and humor. The scene is the back room of a bar where a pool table, a couple of tables and chairs and a juke box make up the basic décor (nicely evoked by set designer Cameron Anderson and enhanced by Jason Lyon's atmospheric lighting).

.It's been a while since Bill (Josh Lucas) and his long-time friend and former college roommate Jim (Dominic Fumusa) have had a boy's night out at their old neighborhood haunt, which they refer to as their "shit hole."”Both men are in their late 30s, but Bill, a graphics designer, is married with no children and Jim, who sells disposable toilets, has remained single. Jim's reason is that he hasn't met the right girl but is eager, nevertheless, to share the details of his more recent sexual escapades.

While Jim leads the casual, but purposely sophomoric male-centric conversation into such topics as the health of the prostate, masturbation, ejaculation, and on into the area of marital fidelity, Bill response is noticeably measured and a bit distant. Aside from Jim leveling with Bill about his disappointment that Bill did not pay his respects to his father after his mother had died, there is no clue that he might have an agenda. Over beer and shots, Jim questions Bill why, after a number of unanswered phone calls, he seemed reticent about meeting his old friend.

Their somewhat awkward and testy reunion is interrupted by the appearance of Joe (Noah Emmerich), an imposing figure who appears to have no clue that he is intrusive, and irritating. Not surprisingly, it doesn't take long for Joe to take control of the conversation, all the while steering both Jim and Bill into something closer to confrontational. The tension is increased if not made more unnerving and complex with the appearance of Bill's wife Jess (Jennifer Mudge), a social worker. Arriving late in the play, Mudge, however, is excellent as the attractive wife who is unwittingly thrown into a vortex of suspicions and denials that appear to be threatening the friendship between Bill and Jim.

Emmerich, who is making his Off Broadway debut, is excellent as Joe, the craftily manipulating stranger. Lucas is right on the mark as Bill, the defensive pawn. Fumusa gives a smartly empowered performance as Jim, whose stake in all this becomes another key to a devastating denouement. Far be it from me to reveal further any connections, entrapments, or surprises. As he proved with his underrated Broadway play Match, Belber writes excellent dialogue. In Fault Lines, the dialogue is brittle, blunt and also wonderfully cryptic when it needs to be. Fault Lines was developed during New York stage and Film's 2008 Powerhouse Season on the Vassar campus. It makes a solid impression in its Off Broadway premiere.

Fault Lines
  By Stephen Belber Directed by David Schwimmer
Cast: Noah Emmerich (Joe), Dominic Fumusa (Jim),, Josh Lucas (Bill ),, Jennifer Mudge (Jess)br>  Set Design: Cameron Anderson
  Costume Design: Mattie Ullrich
  Lighting Design: Jason Lyons
  Sound Design: Bart Fasbender Running Time: 90 minutes with no intermission
  A Naked Angels production at the Cherry Lane Theatre, 38 Commerce Street. (212) 239 – 6200
  Tickets ($60)
  Performances: Monday through Thursday at 8, Friday at 7 and 10, and Saturday at 3 and 8.
  From 9/22/08; opening 9/30/08; closing 11/09/08 Review by Simon Saltzman based on performance 09/29/08
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