Sometimes, a title tells you everything you need to know about a play, and the title of the new play at The Director's Company - Love in the Age of Narcissism - falls squarely into that category.
As suggested by the title, Brad Desch's play is very straightforward; there's very little in the way of depth, little in the way of subtext, and little in the way of surprises. The play is so concerned with itself that it gives yet another (albeit unintended) meaning to the title, yet it's all the more surprising that Love in the Age of Narcissism turns out to be surprisingly amusing.
This is due in great part to David Alan Basche's performance in the central role of Jon. He's able to smoothly negotiate the conflicting emotions of the Manhattan tax attorney facing temptation and frustration from all sides. Though possessed of a youthful spirit, he comes across as particularly aged and tired, and with good reason. Jon is unfilled in his job, and his attempts to have a baby with his wife Laura (Alysia Reiner) have been unsuccessful. Meanwhile, he's become a sounding board for the salacious whims and dreams of his philandering coworker (Richmond Hoxie), and Laura's elderly and eccentric uncle Simon (William Severs) is coming to stay with them over the summer.
Desch spends a great deal of time painting a picture of luxurious drudgery so that he can shatter and redefine it with the introduction of Jon's ex-fiancee Palmer (Amy Landecker). Though she does provide the temporary antidote to Jon's doldrums, her wide-ranging impact is far greater, allowing Jon to see where the line is between what he has and what he needs.
Sensible analysis of where you are and where you're going is an underlining issue with Desch here, though it's never dealt with more clearly or concisely than in the central love triangle. Certain additions to the story, such as Laura's friend and one-time lover Danielle (Maddie Corman) learning to handle her difficult ex-boyfriend cloud the central story unnecessarily, though no element of the play is without thematic connections to Jon's story. They're all just assembled a bit too messily to be consistently effective.
But if Love in the Age of Narcissism has nothing particularly creative to say about modern relationships, the production has done a remarkable job of hiding it. This is a high quality production in every sense. Chris Smith's direction is highly focused, with no wasted moments. Dan Kuchar's set, allowing seamless movement between a number of different locations helps with this greatly, as do Gregory Cohen's lights.
The cast, too, is very strong - all of the actors supporting Basche well and never failing to make impressions in their own roles. Hoxie squeezes every drop of oil out a couple of hilarious scenes defining his concept of life (and love), making a very strong comic impression. Landecker smolders as the sultry Palmer, providing more than enough heat to fire up Jon's life again. William Severs does the most with his underwritten role as the childlike Simon, but seldom rises above the dialogue.
The show's best performance is given in what may be the show's smallest role and, in less worthy hands, could easily be a throwaway. Jon's secretary, Tess, is played by the delightful Amber McDonald, giving a beautifully natural and truthful performance. She really grounds the play with her humor and healthy outlook, providing the ideal emotional and logical anchor for Jon - it's no coincidence he has a healthier relationship with Tess than with the other women in the play.
Basche and McDonald together make magic, and their scenes together are a major factor in what success the play has. They lead the cast in demonstrating that plays live on the stage, not on the page. Reading Love in the Age of Narcissism might be a difficult, if not impossible, experience, but it plays so well in the hands of its remarkably capable cast and crew here that, for the two hours or so the play runs, nothing else seems to matter. You may question some of Desch's decisions later, but while you're watching it, just about everything works, and works well.
The Directors Company