KPBS AIRDATE: MARCH 31, 2000
It’s a play within a play within a play within a play within a play…. a dizzying theatrical journey with so many switchbacks and hairpin turns that after awhile, you don’t really care where it’s going; you just want it to be over.
Form triumphs over substance in Steven Dietz’s “Private Eyes,” a self-congratulatory little comic consideration of what truth is, and who really wants it, anyway.
Every time we feel we’re seeing a genuine interaction between two characters, it turns out to be yet another scene in another play, in this roundelay of two actors, a director, an investigator and a shrink. The cleverness is self-conscious, and the often-predictable plot turns and theatrical clichés run rampant. When, for no apparent reason, the shrink breaks the fourth wall and starts addressing the audience directly, discoursing on truth and marriage, I was searching my seat for the ejector button.
Although the play is only three years old, “Private Eyes” has a distinctly dated feel, like a retread trying to seem hip, a feeling which is only enhanced by the retro music between the scenes.
The set is mercifully simple, just four lighted squares of playing space, sparsely furnished. The most dramatic moment comes when the floor of one area elevates and becomes a bed. Otherwise, the evening is ho-hum and humdrum, despite its many twists and turns. The characters are generally unlikable and unbelievable, and there’s little credible connection between them. Meg Brogan gamely does the best she can with a sometimes smartass, sometimes ridiculous woman who’s fought over by two men: her clueless, fantasist husband, nicely played by Sean Fortunato, and the Machiavellian English director, a man who seems less interested in Lisa than he is in his briefcase. The character of the psychiatrist is patently ludicrous and unnecessary. But as the femme fatale and gumshoe of the title, the sassy, sexy Tertia Lunch fairly steals the show.
The Old Globe’s new associate, Brendon Fox, has directed unobtrusively, and the performances are inconsistent, as the actors grapple with erratically written characters, each of which has a comic or dramatic moment in the sun, and then sinks back into the swamp. When all is said and little done, the underlying negative message about marriage and fidelity is as stomach-churning as the theatrical trip itself.
You’d think that, if you endure the pain of peeling away all the layers of illusion, there ought to at least be something of value underneath. There isn’t.
©2001 Patté Productions Inc.