Sunday, March 19, 2017

How To Transcend a Happy Marriage


In case the bird-headed huntress featured on James McMullan’s wonderful poster for Sarah Ruhl’s new play at Lincoln Center Theater is insufficient warning to expect something unusual, the dead goat hanging upside down over the living room set should surely do the job. An attractive young woman removes it from the hook and carries it off before the play proper begins. A fortyish couple, George (Marisa Tomei) [was it really necessary for the playwright to name the female lead George?] and Paul (Oscar Metwally) are having dinner at the suburban home of their closest friends, Jane (Robin Weigert) and Michael (Brian Hutchison). Jane mentions Pip (Lena Hall), a temp in her office who is both polyamorous and hunts her own meat. They are all intrigued and decide to invite Pip and her two live-in lovers, Freddie (David McElwee) and David (Austin Smith) for a New Year’s Eve party. The party proceeds rather well as they discover such common interests as Pythagoras and Shakespeare. They move on to a karaoke session that spins out of control. Their revels are interrupted by the untimely arrival home of the hosts’ 16-year-old daughter Jenna (Naian Gonzalez Norvind.) The dialogue is smart, funny and sexy, the actors have achieved a fine ensemble and the direction is seamless, once again demonstrating how well-attuned Rebecca Taichman (The Oldest Boy) is to Ruhl’s sensibility. The set design by David Zine and costumes by Susan Hilferty are first-rate. While the first act is nearly perfect, the play has serious second-act problems. An attempt by Pip to teach George to hunt deer has unfortunate consequences. In the scene that follows, there is a sudden introduction of possibly magical events, which, to me, weakens rather than strengthens the play. Freddie and David become mere plot contrivances. Worst of all, we are forced to question or even invalidate what we have seen with our own eyes in the first act. The play partially recovers its footing, but not soon enough to restore all the positive feelings it generated before intermission. While I have no problem with magical realism, I don't feel it works here. The points that I thought Ruhl wanted to make about the limits or limitlessness of love and the difficulties of parent and child to acknowledge each other’s sexuality do not need magical embellishment. It’s a flawed play with a very enjoyable first act. Running time: one hour 50 minutes including intermission.

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