Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

April 17, 2008

The Scene

Hartford Stage, Hartford
through May 4, 2008
April 13, 2008
By Donna Bailey-Thompson

This lively, well-written play bears one essential resemblance to the sophisticated drawing room comedies of yesteryear: actors perform. And oh my, do they! Warts and all. The first act is awash in superficiality. By intermission I didn’t care about any of the four characters. If I had not returned for the second act, I would have crafted an ending and it would have been deader than a doornail wrong. Or, said another way, "Don’t judge a book by its cover," because in Act 2, the covers come off.

Here’s some of what is learned in Act One. Clea (Christy McIntosh) has come to NYC from Ohio bringing her annoying Valley Girl sing-songing mannerisms with her. Lewis (Liam Craig) is a bachelor and faithful friend to Charlie (Matthew Arkin) an actor who has not landed a role worthy of his talent in several years, and to Charlie’s wife, Stella (Henny Russell) who hates everything about her work she loves. (Yes, you read that right.) On a rooftop exposed to the city’s light-twinkling skyline, Cleo prattles on to Lewis and Charlie about being interviewed by a woman she describes as a "Nazi Priestess," not realizing that the woman is Stella. Not that Cleo would care: she is hedonistically uncaring. However, she is sensitive to Charlie’s body language and tone as it applies to her and she challenges him to be honest. In spite of his initial dislike of the airhead, he allows himself to be drawn into her web. Exasperated, he exclaims, "How can you know so much and so little at the same time?"

Surely all four actors were recruited from Central Casting: they are ideal in roles they honed at the George Street Playhouse (New Brunswick, NJ), with whom Hartford Stage has formed a new partnership – an alliance that fosters the artistic and business needs of any successful theater.

Playwright Theresa Rebeck headlines her blog with this revealing quote, "As a writer, I have always considered it my job to describe the world as I know it; to struggle toward whatever portion of the truth is available to me." She dips into her characters’ subterranean closets and while there, she eschews cheap jokes and instead burnishes lines that range from ruefully funny to piercingly hysterical. And in the process, she crafts a dynamite script.