Ed Krieger/Laguna PlayhouseIf people could only learn to trust the universe and realize that the first sign of a love affair gone bad is the only perfect opportunity to get the fuck out, we'd be spared plays like Michael Weller's What the Night Is For.Unfortunately, so many of us are so locked into the beat-the-dead-horse-into-a-fleshy-pulp mode that, after a while, the maggots and bones start tasting so familiar that we start feasting on them, rather than on anything with the semblance of a healthy relationship.
Reveling in memories of the past and using them as reasons to not fully commit to the present are what Adam (Kip Gilman) and Melinda (Claudia Christian) have done for 10 years, ever since their torrid New York City affair abruptly ended. He was a hip, successful architect; she was an aspiring poetess. The Village Voice even called her "Emily Dickinson on Ecstasy." They were both married, but they loved fucking each other. When Melinda split one day without a word, Adam figured she'd found another lover.
The truth—as these things so often are onstage, and maybe even in life—was far more complicated, and the conceit that Adam is tracking down Melinda in a Midwestern hotel room for the first time in 10 years gives both a chance to sort through the strands.
This is a two-character play set in a hotel room, and if you think it sounds a little bit like Bernard Slade's Same Time, Next Year, you're right. Except that play was a very warm and fuzzy look at two lifelong adulterers whose lives were truly better off because of their annual trysts. Weller's play, directed this time around by Richard Stein, is Slade on Viagra. Sexual innuendo drips from Melinda's lips like the rare roast beef she feeds Adam in bed; her body constantly seems to be on the verge of exploding out of her scant costume; and there's more talk of female orgasm and sexual unfulfillment than an afternoon on my shrink's couch.
But there are also a lot of ridiculous complications that constantly obscure the simple point of the play: Should these two people, who still feel so much passion for each other, throw their lives and families away in the desperate hope they're supposed to be together? A pretty retro idea for the stage; it's been tackled, oh, 1,356 times in the past 10 years. Potentially interesting fodder—but not in Weller's play. We don't get a poignantly arresting look at people who've hit a point in life and realized they're terribly unhappy with who they are and who they're with. We also get manic-depressives, bankruptcies, squandered fortunes, men running for political office, and promises to frightened young children that daddy won't divorce mommy, even though all his friends in school are suffering through divorces.
It's just a lot of unnecessary complications that make it even harder to really care much about the people inside the room. But what makes it absolutely impossible to care about either of them is THEY JUST WON'T SHUT THE FUCK UP! He is an outrageously successful architect who loves his kid and has a marriage that, while not as intimate as he'd like, is still "functional." She is a hard-working mother who also loves her children and, while married to someone who isn't a great success, really doesn't have to worry about money for the rest of her life.
In other words, all things being relative, these two just need to chill the fuck out and appreciate what they have. In some terribly immature heat of passion, they're contemplating destroying two marriages and the comfort of at least three children.
Anyway, the rather yawny plot and the fact that it's really hard to give a rat's ass about what happens to such greedy, selfish people make the play's ambiguous ending far less than satisfying. Cliffhangers are good, ambiguity is real, but when you couldn't care less about what happens to anybody onstage, it's just another less-than-scintillating night.
What the Night is For at Laguna Playhouse, 606 Laguna Canyon Rd., Laguna Beach, (949) 497-ARTS; lagunaplayhouse.org. Opens Sat. Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m. Through May 2. $42-$45; students, half-price (except Fri. & Sat. nights and Sun. matinees).
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