Saturday, June 11, 2011

Side Effects **

Michael Weller's two-character play, now at the Lucille Lortel Theatre in an MCC production, is the third in a trio of plays with interlocking characters in troubled marriages. (The series will be published next month under the title Loving Longing Leaving.) The current play covers a year in the life of Melinda and Hugh Metz (Joely Richardson and Cotter Smith). Hugh, the buttoned-up CEO of a failing family-owned factory in a small Midwestern town, is tapped by the town's power broker to run for public office. Melinda is his sexy, bipolar wife who reluctantly gave up a vibrant life in New York when Hugh decided to return home to take over the family business. Both are resentful over what they feel they had to give up for the other. In their early years together, Hugh was allegedly a free spirit, but it's hard to imagine from his present dour manner. In several scenes we see their marriage put to the test as they try to figure out which is harder -- staying together or breaking up. Richardson is superb in the showier role; Melinda's snappy dialogue almost makes bipolar disorder seem appealing. Smith mostly succeeds at the more difficult task of making the audience care about, or at least understand, an unsympathetic character. Even at 90 minutes, the play seems a bit long and repetitive. I found the final scene awkward and unconvincing. The living room set by Beowulf Boritt captures the generic look of Midwestern affluence. David Auburn's direction is smooth. I wish some brave producer would stage the three plays together. Rumor has it that Showtime is interested in making them into a series.

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