In a four-character show like The Scene, usually each character will have his/her moment in the spotlight. That spotlight might include an extensive monologue or a critical decision which not only changes the direction of the plot but also explores his/her depth as a character. One character might start as the villain and another as the most sympathetic character, but those perceptions will shift as the show progresses. Above all else, the playwright tries to introduce us to complex, realistic people; then the playwright allows the fireworks to explode as the characters interact in different pairings.
Therein lies the problem with playwright Theresa Rebeck’s script, which was recently produced at Writer’s Theater under Kimberly Senior’s direction. The characters are disagreeable at the start, and any movement only pushes them further into one defining characteristic apiece. Here is a run-down of each of the four:
Charlie (Mark L. Montgomery) — Charlie is an aging actor, past his prime and unable to get a role despite critical acclaim early in his career. Interviews with Rebeck reveal that she intended for Charlie to represent a modern emasculated male who struggles with his wife Stella’s much greater success, and I agree that aspect of Charlie gave plausibility to his decision to dive into a hot-and-heavy affair with Clea. But why exactly would Charlie, a character Rebeck intended to be intelligent, bring Clea to his apartment when there was a remote chance his wife Stella would come home early? The truth is, Charlie starts out arrogant and moves to inexplicably stupid as we near the play’s conclusion.
Clea (Deanna Myers) – Speaking of the play’s conclusion, Clea is presented as a relentless but competent social climber in just that scene. However, being manipulative and being smart are two different skills, and we spend too much time listening to Clea babble to accept her as “smart.” To give credit, much of the humor in The Scene (and the play is funny at many points) comes from Clea’s prattling on about herself while also telling others exactly what they should be thinking at all times. For example, her assertions that she does not drink “because my mother is an alcoholic” lead to laughs as she constantly swigs vodka, and her ignorant declaration that “all food is bad for you” is the funniest part of the show. But is Clea’s misguided worldview just an act, or is Clea really an ignorant hypocrite? For 95% of the show she is the latter, which causes a problem for the last 5%.
Stella (Charin Alvarez) – Stella walks in on her husband having sex with a 20-something, watches her husband walk out because Clea is more exciting, and then leaves “hundreds of voice messages” for Charlie to try to piece the relationship together. Stella emerges quickly as the most sympathetic character, but Rebeck demotes her from “strong, confident woman” to “powerless victim.” Ultimately, none of her actions seem to have much impact on the plot as a whole.
Louis (La Shawn Banks) – Louis, Charlie’s best friend, is in love with Stella based on a second act reveal. Louis feels guilty because the chain-of-events began when Charlie barged in on Louis’s date with Clea. Louis’s apology speech to Stella is an overly dramatic mess filled with inconsistencies from the first act. Why did Louis feel so bad about wanting to have sex with Clea? He, unlike Charlie, was single. Louis’s guilt sits among the most contrived elements of The Scene.
If all of this sounds like a soap opera plot rolled out slowly over several weeks, then be assured that condensing it into two hours did not make it more thought provoking. What might have been an interesting look into the lives of those who comprise the New York “scene” becomes more of an exercise in tolerating characters who fail to jell into anything of substance.*
*NOTE: If I seem to be picking on Writer’s Theater, please know that their previous show The Hunter and the Bear (which I sadly did not have a chance to write up while it was fresh in my mind) is an early front runner for the #1 spot on my end-of-the-year review.