A handsome stage interior rivaling real-estate porn for the 1 percent can’t mask a play in need of clarity, pruning and another run (or three) through the laptop. Manhattan Theatre Club, once again, offers a reminder of the immutable truth about pretty packaging with its presentation of Richard Greenberg’s wearying family saga The Perplexed, directed by MTC’s artistic head Lynne Meadow. It’s a shapeless dramatic property that must be condemned, despite periodic proof of the Tony-winning Take Me Out playwright’s gift for deftly crafted dialogue – like when a character describes “a low hum of secret fury” hanging in the air. Theatergoers at this work may relate.
Set in 2017 in the luxe library of a Fifth Avenue home (applause for scenic designer Santo Loquasto), the story spins around the midnight wedding of Isabelle and Caleb (Tess Frazer and JD Taylor). The millennials’ marriage reunites their well-heeled respective parents, Evy and Joseph (Margaret Colin and Frank Wood), and Ted and Natalie (Gregg Edelman and Ilana Levine), who, thanks to Joey’s much-discussed but unseen real-estate mogul father, have been estranged for years. As the clock drives toward 12 a.m., old dramas resurface and new ones are bared, including one about Isabelle’s med-student brother Micah (Zane Pais) starring in gay porn videos and another concerning bloody elder abuse.
And there’s talk, talk, talk about the Jewish faith, career indecision, disinheritance, a beheading, kinky sex, white privilege, paternity, lost dreams and city politics. It’s entirely too much and too little at the same time. All the while Evy, a councilwoman, poses in a long red skirt that’s visibly damp at the hem because before and during this event she visits the site of a water-main break in her district. Okay. But her crimson shoes look bone dry. Nope. Nagging details hijack attention when a play is head-to-toe all wet. Perplexed? You bet.