The transparent panels that comprise THE SCENE’s spectacular set by designer Brian Sidney Bembridge are deceptive. From a distance at Writers Theatre, they look like treacherous glass. Up close, the screws that bolt the corners of each panel make it obvious that they are more forgiving plexiglass.
From a distance, the four characters inhabiting THE SCENE seem as superficial and unbreakable as plexiglass. Up close, these people are as fragile as glass. Theresa Rebeck, creator of NBC’s Smash and countless other scripts for screen and stage, knows a thing or two about New York’s entertainment professionals. But whether we want to know as much as Rebeck is another matter.
Writers Theatre’s production – seamless and chic
Directed by Kimberly Senior, Writers Theatre’s production is as seamless as it is chic. Neither the humor nor the pace ease up – at least not until well into the second act when misery starts to overwhelm the hilarity. By then, we’re yearning for a chance to slow down and reflect on this quartet of caustic, high-strung people.
Charlie (Mark Montgomery) is an unemployed mid-forties actor whose early successes are a bitter memory. Charlie’s wife Stella (Charin Alvarez) produces a lucrative daytime talk show but is more invested in adopting a baby from China. Their friend Lewis (La Shawn Banks) is a creature of comfortable accommodation with – though no clear connection to – the couples’ high stake/low principle show biz scene. Clea (Deanna Myers), the young woman who lurches into their lives, is a diabolical siren in a size 2 dress and 5-inch heels.
At a glitzy Manhattan party, Charlie avoids his task of sucking up to industry contacts. Instead, he and Lewis cross paths with the narcissistic motor-mouth Clea. Their hostile encounter is initially trivial. But it becomes consequential when Charlie, consumed by anger and insecurity, succumbs to nubile Clea. “It’s like talking to a porn movie,” he says, failing to anticipate the train wreck ahead.
THE SCENE questions female power
Rebeck asks serious questions about female power as betrayed wife Stella and relentless Clea do battle. While Charlie rails against Stella as “too competent,” Clea boasts, “with me, he’s a lion.” So who really has more power in society? A mid-40s executive who pays her out-of-work husband’s bills but hates her career? Or a mid-20s sexpot who is sleeping her way to the top? The top of what, she’s not sure, just as long as it’s the top.
If only these people weren’t so short on soul, we’d care more as they trip on the slick surface of their lives. When their plexiglass personas give way to the authentic glass inside, it’s too little too late. At best, watching these people chase their glittering false gods allows us to feel better about our own unremarkable lives.
325 Tudor Court
Now through April 2
Tuesdays – Fridays at 7:30 PM
Saturday at 3:00 & 7:30 PM
Sunday at 2:00 & 6:00 PM
Photos: Liz Lauren
Note: An excerpt of this review appears in Theatre in Chicago.
About the Author
Susan Lieberman is a playwright, journalist and script consultant who commits most of her waking hours to Chicago theatre. Her Jeff-winning play Arrangement for Two Violas will be published by Chicago Dramaworks in spring 2017.