Thursday, May 7, 2015

Permission **

Can lightning strike twice in the same place? Not if the place is the Lucille Lortel Theatre and the bolt is aimed by playwright Robert Askins. His “Hand to God” was so successful there that it ended up on Broadway. I don’t see that future for this messy satire which deals with two thirtyish couples in Waco, Texas who are trying to make marriage work. Zach (Lucas Near-Verbrugghe) and Michelle (Nicole Lowrance) are practitioners of Christian Domestic Discipline — an actual movement — whereby the husband is clearly the wife’s boss and disciplinarian. When the wife misbehaves, it’s time for a spanking. Zach encourages his old friend Eric (a wonderful Justin Bartha), who’s a bit of a milquetoast, to follow their example. Since his wife Cynthia (a hilarious Elizabeth Reaser) spends her days lying around, drinking wine and watching “Matlock” reruns instead of working on her novel and cleaning house, Eric decides to give it a try. In the short run it works out well for him and Cynthia, but it can’t overcome serious problems in the other couple’s marriage. Using his new-found confidence, Eric foolishly gives encouragement to his adoring student secretary Jeanie (Talene Monahon). A get-together in Act Two turns into a near orgy for all five characters. While the play ends up spinning its wheels and not taking us to a clear destination, the ride is often hilarious. There are some very funny scenes and the fine cast wrings every drop of humor from them. The audience reaction was enthusiastic. I enjoyed it more than I admired it. I suspect that more time in workshop might have ironed out some of the rough spots. I would have left out the secretary subplot. David Korins’s set design cleverly transforms into several locations. Paloma Young’s costumes suit their characters well. Director Alex Timbers handles the physical humor admirably but can’t lend a sense of direction where it’s not present on the page. Running time: 1 hour 45 minutes including intermission.

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