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New Jersey by Bob Rendell

You Really Should Make The Scene
at George Street

Also see Bob's review of Daphne Does Dim Sum

The Scene
Christy McIntosh and Matthew Arkin
Something pretty exciting is going on at the George Street Playhouse.  It is a new production of The Scene, a recent play by the prolific Theresa Rebeck. It is both old fashioned and cutting edge.  It retells a very old morality tale.  Talkin' Broadway St. Louis reviewer Sarah Boslaugh notes in her review of this play that Rebeck has described it as a re-telling of W. Somerset Maugham's Of Human Bondage.  However, The Scene relates the tale with sharp and ribald humor that is as up to date as is its background of New York City hedonistic parties featuring designer drugs and rampant sexuality, and its depiction of societal adoration of amoral, self-destructive "beautiful people" on the path of dissipation and dissolution.

The middle-aged Charlie, since some early success as a working stage actor, has gone through a long fallow period unable to find employment.  His wife Stella has achieved economic security for them through her employment as a booker of guests for a major television talk show.  She is level headed and supportive of Charlie. As the play begins, Charlie and his diffident best friend Lewis are on a loft rooftop surrounded by the nighttime New York City skyline.  They are taking a break from the wild party below.  Enter Clea, a shallow twenty-something beauty from Ohio who is seeking a toehold in the entertainment industry.  Charlie nastily challenges her fatuous babble.

A couple of weeks later, Charlie encounters Clea in Lewis' apartment where Lewis is in the process of talking Clea into bed.  Charlie tries to discourage Lewis' interest in her ("She's a moron." / "I don't care.")  In short order, Clea sends Lewis out to pick up dinner, and Clea makes quick work of seducing the feebly resisting Charlie.  End of act one.

In summary, it is sufficient to say that the second act finds Charlie, propelled by his desires, rapidly descend a downhill course, destroying all that is meaningful to him.  However, it is in the details that The Scene distinguishes itself from its predecessors. For one thing, there is the brilliant writing and execution of the extended centerpiece scene which begins the second act.  The first of it must be credited largely to director Jeremy B. Cohen and actors Matthew Arkin and Christy McIntosh.  It is a few weeks later and Charlie and Clea are fornicating in Charlie and Stella's living room.  It is both steamy and hilarious as, with wild lust and abandon, Clea and Charlie go at it on a table, the back of a couch and a day bed.  Covered by the tails of Charlie's shirt, the lovers perform with a realism and passion that is a match for the steamy seduction scene in the musical Spring Awakening.

For another, despite the citation of Of Human Bondage, it is not the lure of Clea that is principally responsible for Charlie's descent.  It is the irresponsible hedonism that is promoted in advertising and the entertainment industry that has made Charlie ripe for seduction.  When Stella walks in on Charlie and Clea (this does not play as a playwright's convenience because it is clear that Clea has purposely placed them all into this situation), it is quickly clear that Stella will accept Charlie's contrition.  However, rather than be contrite, he joins the egocentric Clea in attacking his wife.

One funny exchange is: Stella (to Charlie): Get her out!/ Clea: No reason to be rude.

Much more occurs and it is well drawn, but inevitable.  In the final scene, Clea, who has moved on to a new situation, offers Charlie an opportunity to eat crow in order to get a job.  It no longer matters whether he will do so or not, as he has already destroyed that which was most important in his life.

Matthew Arkin initially conveys all the intensity and bitter and thwarted intelligence of Charlie.  As the play progresses, Arkin measuredly depicts the brutality and dissolution which invade his being.  Christy McIntosh nails the beauteous and vapid but self-servingly shrewd Clea.  Henny Russell brings a sense of urbanity and a strong center to Stella.  Liam Craig embodies the diffidence and desires of a clearly economically stable (although we never learn anything about his vocation) but socially awkward Lewis.

Although the central role in The Scene is that of Charlie, it is the Cleas of the world who fascinate us.  Cleas have become ubiquitous in all media, particularly in the "reality" areas of television and celebrity journalism.  She is the celebrity/personality who is blessed with spectacularly good looks and the shrewdness and charm to project and maximize this asset.  I do not mean to imply that such individuals do not exist in all areas of endeavor.  It is the media deification of such individuals and their potential effect on others that is perceived as a problem.  Rebeck does warn us against a corollary tendency out there:  One of the few pleasures in life is trashing people who we don't know.  Especially, when they have things that we want, like fame or money.

As the scene shifts over the course of the play from the loft roof to three New York City apartments, the placement and angle of the artfully cut out buildings shifts with each relocation.  The very playable, smoothly versatile set is the work of Kris Stone. Director Jeremy B. Cohen has kept matters at a lively pace, emphasizing the comic and lurid elements of the play wherever possible. This approach enhances accessibility to its serious, underlying themes.

The Scene will have strong appeal to younger, hipper audiences as well as other theatergoers willing to open themselves up to the new and provocative.

The Scene premiered at the Humana Festival in Louisville and then was staged in New York by Second Stage in 2006.  This is a co-production with the Hartford Stage Company in Connecticut where it will perform from April 3 – May 4.

The Scene continues performances Eves: Tues.-Sat. 8 p.m./ Sun. 7 p.m. (exc. 3/23) / Sat.& Sun. 2 p.m. (exc. 3/8) – through March 23, 2008 at the George Street Playhouse, 9 Livingston Avenue, New Brunswick, NJ 08901. Box Office: 732-246-7717; online: www.GSPonline.org.

The Scene by Theresa Rebeck; directed by Jeremy B. Cohen

Cast
Clea…………….Christy McIntosh
Lewis…………………Liam Craig
Charlie…………....Matthew Arkin
Stella………………Henny Russell
 


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- Bob Rendell



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