Also see Ann's review of Mezzulah, 1946
In Yasmina Reza's Life X 3, translated by Christopher Hampton, two couples play out a basic premise in triplicate as we are treated to three versions of what might happen given a simple set of circumstances. Research scientist Henri (Brandon Williams) and his wife Sonia (Caris Vujcec) are expecting Henri's colleague Hubert (Rob Breckenridge) and wife Inès (Susan Angelo) for dinner, but the guests arrive one day early. With dueling parenting skills, Henri and Sonia are dealing with the typical parental challenge of getting their young (unseen) son Arnaud settled in bed. When Hubert and Inès arrive, the hosts, with Sonia dressed for bed and no food in the house, swing into action to deal with the surprise. We find out that Henri has been consumed with writing an important paper (his first and only publication, hence the importance) and Hubert has some influence in the direction of Henri's career. Hubert divulges the fact that another paper has just been published, seemingly on the exact topic as Henri's (halo theory). In the play's three scenes, we see the effects of these core elements and the relationships among the four taking different directions, as a result of some fine-tuning of the details by Reza.
As a comedy, Life X 3's three scenes seem misarranged, as the first scene is by far the funniest - and the lengthiest, as we are given a lot of setup that is not repeated in the subsequent scenes. The second scene takes off slowly. It isn't clear (after the stagehands have reset the props and Henri and Sonia repeat some of their lines) where the play is going; it also appears to be a more serious minded incarnation of the central premise. The third scene returns to the comedy and lighter atmosphere, though it does not recapture the hilarity of the first scene. Much of Life X 3's humor is situational, with many funny (but authentic) lines, perfectly suited to the characters. Only occasionally, mostly with the French pronunciation of some names, are we reminded that the play was originally written in French. Hampton's translation appears to serve the original well.
Williams and Vujcec are simply delightful as the contemporary parents and professionals (Sonia is an attorney). So much of their debate - on how much attention and how many bites of apple Arnaud should get as he refuses to go to sleep - rings true, and the personalities of each adult is illustrated clearly through the sides they take in the debate. Both actors are firmly committed to their roles; it's one of those rare situations in which it is difficult to believe they are not simply acting like themselves, so well cast and spot-on they are. Breckenridge and Angelo are also well cast, but we get less background on this couple, so the quality of their acting builds as the characters develop through all three scenes. The end result is satisfyingly solid performances by all.
Luke Hegel-Cantarella has designed an attractive and functional upscale urban apartment (the play is set in Paris) with a few essential props. Costumes by Alejo Vietti are of appropriate current fashion. Sound and lighting (Zach Moore and John Lasiter, respectively) are well done and in harmony with the other elements.
Congratulations to Director Jesse Berger for superb work in pacing and not going over the top with the humor and characterizations.
Life X 3 continues at the O'Reilly Theatre for Pittsburgh Public Theatre though April 8. For performance and ticket information, call 412-316-1600 or visit www.ppt.org or the box office.