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Three Travelers

Theatre Review by Cindy Pierre

Stephen Schnetzer, Kenneth Maharaj, Kathleen McNenny, and Judith Lightfoot Clarke
Photo by Gerry GoodStein.

It is said that wisdom is attained through persistent soul-searching and that one must dig deep in order to receive spiritual enlightenment. Some people take a lifetime to achieve a satisfactory betterment of themselves. The characters in Richard Abrons' Three Travelers, however, expect to do it collectively in one hour or bust. After trekking all the way to India to visit a guru, they soon find out that growth comes with reflection, pain, and flexibility, but not necessarily in that order.

While on a quest for self-improvement and nirvana with their British friend Lydia (Kathleen McNenny), affluent married couple Mavis (Judith Lightfoot Clarke) and Travis (Stephen Schnetzer) discover that there's a high price to be paid to be rich in spirit. They are taught this lesson by Guru (a wily Kenneth Maharaj), a local and famous wise man that frequents a grandiose religious ruin to dispense knowledge and indirect instruction as he pleases. When they arrive at his "office" with only one hour to spare, they find that he takes customers in the same manner that the Department of Motor Vehicles does: by ticket number. So begins the tomfoolery that is at the heart of this production, and that is seemingly behind Guru's (or swami, as Travis derisively calls him) plans. And by the end of his circus, they may not acquire what they came for, but they leave with exactly what they need.

Three Travelers aims to bring levity to a theme that is typically weighty. Rather than beat back the evils of human nature, it offers instead the option of exposing them for what they are and dealing with them rationally. It reduces wisdom and truth to party tricks, and in so doing, somehow makes attaining freedom accessible to everyone. Unfortunately, the script by Abrons is cheeky and clich├ęd and wise words from various religions and philosophies are dealt out in the same manner that a croupier would deal out cards at a casino: flippant, random, and all shuffled together. Although the relationships of the tourists are integral to the plot, their true natures unravel predictably and much in the same manner as a soap opera (no pun on Schnetzer's elaborate soap opera career intended).

Although the set design by Don Llewellyn is extravagant and striking, it does not represent the "ruin" that it should. This broken down palace is much grander than it should be and is the antithesis of a guru's typical meager environment, specifically since like many gurus, the guru of this play often references a simple life and freedom from possession as the guidelines for happiness. Although the set does create the illusion of Guru's lofty knowledge, it is not supportive of the remaining cast. Under Jay Broad's direction, the actors already struggle to keep things animated. Against the giant broken pillars and mortar, the slow moments between them are enhanced. The set simply upstages the cast. As the truth serum, Maharaj is playful and successful in drawing out desires, but his bait is not tempting enough for us to believe that the confessions of the actors would be the inevitable result. Tensions escalate in ridiculous proportions, with an even more outlandish climax to rope everything together.

Three Travelers may try to entertain and even soothe, but it falls short on both endeavors. You may let out a chuckle or two, but you won't find a rip-roaring good time here. Unless, of course, you find inflated silliness exciting. And if you're looking for guidance, you're better off consulting your local fortune-cookie purveyor.

Three Travelers
Through February 17
Theatre at St. Clements, 423 West 46th Street
Running Time: 2 hours, with one intermission
Tickets online and current Performance Schedule: TicketCentral

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