Lets say you were nutty. Oops. Let me try that again.
Let’s say you had someone in your family who was nutty. Or you knew someone who was nutty. And, say, you let that person into your apartment and your life after an absence of many years. Then, let’s say that person asks for food and temporary shelter. You say yes. He moves in. He doesn’t leave. He makes no attempt to leave, and no reference to leaving. Not only that, he turns your living room into a pigsty, makes a pass at your wife, and brings home a boyfriend who brays.
Of course you don’t know about the pass at your wife thing, because she is sort of adrift and not really certain of much. But even so, do you think you might ask that nutty person to leave?
In Three Changes, not only does our stable husband, Nate (Dylan McDermott), not ask his brother to leave, he never asks him to do much of anything. He asks us, or rather tells us, about his brother, Hal (Scott Cohen). And Hal talks to us. And the wife, Laurel (Maura Tierney), talks to us about these two men. Oh, and Steffi, the woman Nate is sleeping with whenever he can, she talks to us too. Everyone talks to us when they should be talking to each other.
Some of what they tell us is so intimate and nearly poetic that we go a little nutty ourselves waiting for them to talk to each other in simple startling sentences. For instance, Laurel has endured three miscarriages and has now given up on children. “I knew those children and they knew me. I loved them and they loved me.” Jeepers. If that doesn’t get you…
But to her husband Laurel only says, “What’s wrong?” “Why not?” “Give him time.” “Let’s play Monopoly!” Makes you wonder why two brothers would fuss over her at all.
It’s like watching a bunch of scenes from different plays all mixed up together.
It’s the most baffling experience. A series of scenes flies across the stage in which things happen, only nothing really happens. Even after Hal tried to kill his brother, nothing really happens. It is as though everyone is playing this out underwater – in slow motion, inaudible and, in the first act, navigating around half-filled wine glasses, a bottle of white wine left on the bar, board games, and dirty laundry left in place from scene to scene. None of the actors seems to notice the clutter or the abandoned and room-temperature vino. Helloo in there.
Now maybe this play is supposed to be a farce, supposed to take us so far off the track that we give up and let ourselves be led, the way we do with Beckett or Albee. Except it doesn’t go quite far enough, so instead of taking us off the track, it begins to feel like a toothache about to become a migraine. It is only in Nate’s last monologue, a chilling revelation of loneliness in New York, that we get a teensy weensy glimpse of where this play might have led us.
But it is too little too late. Like a door opening just enough to let you see in, but the person behind the door is never revealed and the chain lock is never removed, Three Changes is an exercise in frustration. Better you should ride the #4 at rush hour. At least you would get someplace – eventually.
Three Changes by Nicky Silver; directed by Wilson Milam.
WITH: Aya Cash (Steffi), Scott Cohen (Hal), Dylan McDermott (Nate), Brian J. Smith (Gordon) and Maura Tierney (Laurel).
Sets by Neil Patel; costumes by Theresa Squire; lighting by Ben Stanton; sound by Bart Fasbender; production manager, Christopher Boll; production stage manager, William H. Lang. Presented by Playwrights Horizons, Tim Sanford, artistic director; Leslie Marcus, managing director; Carol Fishman, general manager. At the Playwrights Horizons Mainstage Theater, 416 West 42nd Street, NYC; (212) 279-4200. Through Oct. 2. Running time: 2 hours.
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