by Theresa Rebeck
directed by Doug Hughes
Mark Taper Forum
through October 16
Like God of Carnage before it, ever ready to expose raw emotions to the very core, Poor Behavior, a world premiere by Theresa Rebeck is a starkly real, sometimes funny and thought-provoking play bound to create controversy. Morality, now there's the rub. Whether 'tis better to live one's life complacent and nice, or break free of goodness, just once, in the hopes of finding a viable alternative for happiness. Now onstage at the Mark Taper Forum, Poor Behavior is tautly directed, consummately acted theatre not to be missed.
Judging from audience reaction, Ian (Reg Rogers) is a perpetrator of nasty, evil proportions. But, after careful consideration, isn't his appraisal of Ella's marriage (Johanna Day) truthful? And isn't her submission to his seduction proof that she really wants and needs the attention? Still, most will query, she has had a good marriage to Peter (Christopher Evan Welch), who has given her the kind of security and lifestyle she will never have with Ian, supposing that their bonding could, in fact, go anywhere. And then, of course, there's crazy Maureen (Sharon Lawrence), Ian's wife, who accuses of Ian of having an affair with Ella long before any extramarital sex happens. Maureen has a track record of fabricating lies and has been hospitalized many times for her mental instability. But, if Peter really trusted Ella's loyalty, why would he start to have doubts about his wife and believe what Maureen accuses, especially when he had warned Ian years before not to marry Maureen, as she seemed a bad choice... crackers? Is there a permanent dent in the relationship of Ella and Peter, seemingly the perfect couple, or are they merely going through a temporary dry spell? Rebeck brings all of this to light as we are forced to face relationships, how two totally different couples stay together for completely different reasons, making us confront what constitutes happiness. Is it relative? Does it exist at all? Is it a god thing or a bad thing? And through all of this we see how all people, regardless of their sense of morality, may exhibit poor behavior toward one another.The structure of the play is circular, beginning with an argument about an American's viewpoint of goodness and a Brit's concept of it. Ella and Ian, both inebriated, are debating this very question that Ian asks at the end of the play: if he has caused her marriage to break up... is it a good thing or a bad thing? In the beginning, as Ian and Ella, who appear to be the perfect intellectual match for each other, spar, their partners Maureen and Peter, also quite inebriated, just do not seem to be able to keep up with the depth of conversation. So maybe Ian and Ella are right for each other from the start. Food for thought!
The ensemble is marvelous. Rogers makes Ian a devious friend/party guest at best, but sexy, spontaneous, wildly appealing. He does not deny anything and is full of surprises. A wonderfully glib performance of a selfish man desperately trying to find his way! Lawrence, perfectly cast as Maureen, plays a female enigma, a woman of high maintenance with such total sincerity and conviction. Welch underplays Peter, making him a real puzzlement. Peter seems to care about his wife and about Maureen's ultimate state, but is only human and has lost his sense of confidence. Day is stellar as Ella. A tower of strength reduced to a cornered animal, Ella tries desperately to free herself from attack and any sense of guilt, yet ultimately succumbs to weakness. Like her fellow cast mates, Day connects vibrantly to her character.
Doug Hughes directs with an incisive eye, keeping the pace fiery and the pauses/surprise moments, thrilling. John Lee Beatty's set of a spacious country kitchen and playroom and Ben Stanton's light changes add wondrous touches.
Just when we thought Yasmina Reza's God of Carnage said it all, along comes Theresa Rebeck and her astute, soul-searching play. Poor Behavior is yet another example of intellectually challenging theatre at its finest hour.
5 out of 5 stars