"Life (X) Three" falls short
Edward Albee created the gold standard for the inherent drama when two couples of different status and experience depth gather over alcohol and mixed ambition and let the knives begin to slice and dice.
"Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf" premiered in 1962, won a Pulitzer Prize and was made into one memorable movie. We have all seen the emotional decay in the verbal screed of George and Martha and Nick and Honey.
Move ahead 50 years to Milwaukee's Boulevard Theatre, where "Life (X) Three" runs until Oct. 14. The play – by the marvelous Yasmina Reza, the French playwright who created both "Art" and "Gods of Carnage" – explores the same equation that Albee defined.
But, while Albee has passion and depth and desire on flaunting display, Reza has resorted to a gimmick that is a Halloween of a play, but much more trick than treat.
The setup is simple enough. Henry and Sonia are one couple. He's an astrophysicist and she is a lawyer who doesn't practice much law. The other couple is Hubert and Inez. He is also an astrophysicist and she doesn't work at all.
Hubert and Inez are due to arrive for dinner tomorrow night, but they come one night early and we are expected to believe that the only things in the house are some chocolate fingers and Cheetos.
The two men are both competitors and colleagues. Hubert is in either the middle or the start of a fling with Sonia. Inez has a run in her nylon, something we hear about repeatedly, but never see.
That is one of the major problems with this play. They tell us what is happening, but nobody ever shows it to us. They keep saying how drunk everyone is getting, but we don't really see anyone getting drunk until the very end, when Inez plays her inebriation for laughs rather than for pity or sympathy for her fall from her peculiar kind of grace.
Reza needed a gimmick for her play and she found it in the idea of letting the audience see the same scene three times, with some subtle differences that are designed to make us laugh and squirm and remain entranced at the degeneration of these four people.
We should be so lucky.
We don't ever see any real plummeting, either emotionally or intellectually, from any of the four actors. We don't feel sorry for any of them. No pity. No … nothing.
A big part of the problem is the play itself, which feels like the first draft of a work. You have to pay attention and have deep care about every word when you write a play, but in this one the words tumble out without sense or reason. What Reza needed instead of a gimmick, was an editor.
Another part of that problem, perhaps a major part, comes from the wooden acting of the two men – Joe Drilling, who plays Henry, and Siddhartha Valicharla, who plays Hubert. Both actors are unsure of their lines, leading to some very awkward pauses as they search for where they should be. This clearly causes problems for the women – Jamieson Hawkins, who is perfectly buttoned up as Sonia, and Rachel Lewandowski, who is a befuddled Inez.
None of the four players in this play listen to what the others are saying. You can't have a good argument without listening to your foe. Here the actors, especially the men, just speak their lines as if they have no reason to be saying them other than the fact that they were written in the script.
Boulevard exists in kind of a nether region in the Milwaukee theatrical firmament. For almost three decades, Mark Bucher has held his tiny band of warriors together, sometimes with little more than rope and hope. But he has created many fine performances.
Moreover, he has a well-deserved reputation for giving wings to seldom-produced plays and for putting emerging actors on a path that will hopefully lead them to success. He deserves all of the accolades that can be heaped on him for a tireless dedication.
That's why this play is such a disappointment. Boulevard deserves better.
In the middle of the play, Henry looks at his wife and his guests and says, "It's been kind of a disjointed evening, hasn't it?"
He doesn't know the half of it. He should have been sitting where the audience was sitting.
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