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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

 
POOR BEHAVIOR
at The Duke

HOUSE OF ANTAGONISTS
By SANDY MACDONALD

  Katie Kreisler and Brian Avers/ Ph: James Leynse

Theresa Rebeck’s latest play, Poor Behavior, starts off with a heated late-night argument, of the kind fueled either by sexual tension or excessive consumption of alcohol – in this instance, a bit of both. We’re thrust abruptly into the company of two contentious couples, winding down after dinner in a modest country house (which set designer Lauren Helpern has given a cheery, barely lived-in look). The debate itself – classic pessimist vs. optimist fare, about whether “goodness” can be said to exist in this world – is fairly boring, its outcome moot. The only suspense (it lasts mere minutes) lies in trying to figure out who’s aligned with whom.

Are we witnessing – a la Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? – a domestic spat between Ian (Brian Avers, employing an unreliable Irish accent) and dour, down-to-earth Ella (Katie Kreisler), amped up for the benefit of hapless onlookers Peter (Jeff Biehl) and Maureen (Heidi Armbruster)? Not quite. Ella, we soon learn, is married to seemingly unflappable Peter, and Ian to Maureen, who initially comes across as placid and accommodating (maybe a bit dim) but will soon be flipping out, after witnessing what appears to be a compromising clinch between the two combatants.

Rebeck deals out the dramatic equivalent of the card game “War” (look for two decks sitting on a windowsill). She tends to pit the protagonists against each other serially one on one, as vital bits of information are revealed, twisted or withheld. The scheme feels mechanistic. It would help a great deal if we knew just a bit more about these characters – their professions, for instance, or driving passions. Rebeck is deft in skewering the trappings of yuppie life (gourmet muffins come in for a drubbing), but where are the details that would help us place these people, beyond the foment caused by the possibility of an illicit affair?

Rebeck’s depiction of Maureen seems especially unkind. The other three all dismiss her as a “lunatic,” but what we see in passing – beyond a pretty woman with a penchant for passive aggression – is someone devastated by the prospect of loss. Sure, Maureen is manipulative, but her torment is real, and hardly a laughing matter.

Is Ian malevolent, a “trickster” intent on sowing chaos? All too clearly, from the get-go, we witness him getting his kicks tormenting Maureen. So it’s no great surprise when the game goes sour. Two hours spent in the company of these clamorous, self-dramatizing ciphers could send anyone running for the hills.

 


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