March 18, 2013
Yasmina Reza is the kind of playwright that makes other playwrights green with envy. Her 1995 play, Art, has been produced in more than 30 languages, and her 2007 play, God of Carnage, was turned into a film in 2012 by Roman Polanski. So, I asked a Facebook friend of mine, a stellar playwright in his own right, what he thought of her.
"It's easy theatre designed to make middle-class white people feel good about themselves," came the response from said FB friend, whose name will not be revealed in case Reza ever sneezes in his general direction and offers him her handkerchief laced with gold dust.
It's hard to disagree after watching Reza's 2000 play, Life x 3, which features similar characters to those in the aforementioned plays: well-educated, well-heeled, wonderful conversationalists who speak about all kinds of smart things, usually with wine glasses sealed to the palms of their hands. Like Art and Carnage, shifting alliances and struggles for power ensue and snarky turns into downright viciousness, seeming to indicate that under their apparently calm and collected public faces, there are private storms brewing.
But it's a proverbial tempest in a teapot. Regardless of how smart they sound, how anguished they tell us are, there's not a great deal going on beneath the surface of of Reza's characters or her play. It's safe, lightweight theater that might be a gas to perform, but leaves one with an empty feeling, kind of like being subjected to an an episode of White People Problems on Saturday Night Live, when a couple is tossed into an existential crisis over having to share the same summer house with a couple they used to be really close to but now don't talk to that often.
But at least it's short. And the play's there-is-no-there-there feel isn't the fault of the cast or director Gary Krinke who, in typical fashion, guides us through the 80-or-so minutes at a brisk clip. It's the playwright's fault who, apparently woke up one morning with an interesting gimmick: write a play in which the events of a botched dinner party are seen in three different ways. It's not Rashomon, as the perspective of those events never change. It's more Groundhog Day, as the same situation is repeated, but events change without the conscious interference of the characters.
Basically, the character of Henry (the play has two casts and the night I attended this pivotal character was played by Frank Tryon) whom the play is most about, is on the verge of publishing a research paper he desperately needs to solidify his academic pedigree. He and his wife, Sonia (Mo Arii), nervously await the arrival of a more pedigreed colleague the next night for a dinner party. However, said colleague, Hubert (Karl Schott), and his wife, Inez (Cynthia Ryanen), unexpectedly show up one night early.
The lights turn off and then come up with the four laughing around a wet bar. This is where the next two scenes begin as well. The repetitive nature of the play is a neat idea, but the stakes aren't high enough to really warrant revisiting it twice to see the different outcomes. There's lot of talk about spiral galaxies and some obnoxious kid is whining and crying off-stage and there's nothing to eat but chocolate ladyfingers and Cheeze-Its, and there's lots of drinking and someone has a big run in her pantyhose and issues of control and manipulation surface and it's just a real bore.
The cast is up to the task, even if Arii and Tryon start out so animated that the play seems to shout its arrival rather than lay out a thoughtful strategy. All four character's personalities shift through the three scenes in redux, and each cast member adjusts accordingly. As an acting exercise, it's effective; as a play it isn't.
The most interesting part of the play comes during a monologue courtesy of Ryanen's character when she eloquently speaks about how people's choices and their lives truly do matter.
Too bad this play doesn't.
Stages Theatre, 400 E. Commonwealth Ave., Fullerton, (714) 525-4484. Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m. Thru April 7. $18-$20. www.stagesoc.org.