The focus of the storyline, which grows darker by the moment, begins as curvy, trophy-like Clea (Christy McIntosh), a stereotypical ditsy, blonde Ohio native, prances about as she offers her insight into New York City and its racy possibilities. She meets Charlie (Matthew Arkin) who is by trade a stage actor and one currently running on empty. Without any roles in sight, he might have to cater to the whims of a onetime friend in order to land a part on a television pilot. Charlie is far from thrilled. He, at the outset, is in conversation on the rooftop with pal Lewis (Liam Craig), who is meek and physically uninspiring. Charlie is currently supported by his wife, Stella (Henny Russell). She books guests for a TV talk show and is, in every way, the picture of stability.
Rebeck's dialogue is snappy and clever. It's impossible not to laugh with and at Clea who wears a black dress (furnished by costumer Miranda Hoffman), struts about, seeks attention and quick action, and grows more uninhibited by the moment. The playwright drops several hints that Charlie and Clea will eventually find themselves in bed. When they do link, though, it's with utter abandon – on a table, a sofa .... Use your imagination. Put it this way: the swiveling McIntosh is easy on the eyes while Arkin's Charlie, self-absorbed with his woe until coupling with Clea, welcomes a hedonistic opportunity. He tries, briefly, to minimize the damage when steadfast Stella walks in as he and Clea grind away. By the way, the scenic shift to apartment interiors is pretty impressive.
Clea, who has previously dubbed Stella an "infertile Nazi priestess," ultimately demonstrates that she (Clea) is not quite so typecast as it once seemed. For a good while, during the first act, Clea demonstrated that her vocabulary spins about one word: "surreal." It turns out she's far brighter and also more manipulative than earlier indicated.
Rebeck's play, which promises and then delivers quite viewable romps here and there, grows suddenly serious. Whose potential, among the four participants, might be realized? Not Charlie's. Clea doesn't have a whole lot of heart but her reality is more complex than her appearance. Lewis, about whom we know comparatively little, seeks stability – and might yet find it. Stella, recovering, will be a survivor. Rebeck at first offers caricatures but her characters' interactions are swift and sometimes heated.
The acting contingent is excellent. Arkin deserves special commendation for never breaking Charlie's character. The man is perpetually troubled, even as he tangles with Clea. Rebeck provides the recognizable middle-aged persona – the artist who, seeking to reinvent himself, is caught within a marriage which is lacking in spontaneity. Arkin wears his dissatisfaction upon his face and never appears to be especially pleased.
The Scene offers witness to various dynamics within contemporary relationships. The prospects for balance seem dim. Thus, the production concludes, particularly for Charlie, without a great deal of hope. Director Jeremy B. Cohen effectively generates pace throughout the show, one which requires actors to charge forward and draw backward. All performances are accomplished ones. And this play, to my thinking, is far superior to Rebeck's Bad Dates.
The Scenecontinues at Hartford Stage through May 4th. For ticket information, call the box office at (860) 527-5151 or visit www.hartfordstage.org.
- Fred Sokol