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Going to Bordeaux

Theatre Review by Matthew Murray

Going to Bordeaux is about going to Bordeaux. It really is that simple when it comes to Richard Lay's new play at the Jan Hus Playhouse. Three of the play's four characters have very strong reasons for wanting to travel to the French port city. What else do you need?

Well, a convincing script might help. Lay's work here is not particularly strong. In fact, most of the time, it's very weak. While in The Three Sisters, Anton Chekov got strong dramatic mileage out of his three title characters wishing to move to Moscow, Lay is far less successful. His characters do little more than say things.

Much talk is made, for example, of the lead character Vincent (Jeff Farber) and his skill with painting. He moved to Maine with his longtime girlfriend Nell (Michelle Esrick) and their daughter Dana five years ago. His painting has recently ground to a halt, yet, according to the mostly clunky exposition, he still spends hours locked away in his studio daily. Yet the play's primary location is in his living room, not his studio, where he is often to be found drinking copious amounts of red wine.

Vincent is currently experiencing difficulties with Nell, and his having a relationship with his prized student Charley (Erin Keefer); the two incidents hardly seem to be related. Yet despite being told time and time again how brilliant Charley is in her own right, she comes across primarily as a very cold, disinterested young woman with less chemistry with Vincent than Nell, his never-ending sparring partner, does.

Of the play's characters, only Vincent's daughter (Sarah Strasser) seems really real - everyone else, via character choices or direction (by Gus Smythe) plays things in a very one note way. But Strasser comes across as fairly warm, good natured, and layered, and though her onstage time is limited, and the ultimate direction of her character as predictable as it is unnecessary, she's the main highlight of the production.

But the most significant problem remains Lay's script, which doesn't make any of the characters' desires believable. Vincent and Charley only barely seem like artists, and Vincent and Nell have a long term relationship in words only. Lay lays too much of the play's weight on their relationship without establishing enough of what should make us care about it. Surprising plot twists (of which Going to Bordeaux has its fair share) only add up to so much in the best of circumstances, but are from satisfactory in this show.

Ultimately, Going to Bordeaux too often feels like a poorly written television show that has to get everything resolved in a certain period of time, but it needed more opportunities to develop its story and characters. Going to Bordeaux is a play that, as with wine, really needed to breathe.

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Sage Theatre Company
Going to Bordeaux
by Richard Lay
Jan Hus Playhouse, 351 East 74th Street between First and Second Avenues
Through December 16
Running time: Approximately one hour, fifteen minutes, with no intermission
Schedule and Tickets: (212) 206-1515