Lifestyles of the rich and unhappy

Love in the Age of Narcissism

By Brad Desch
Directed by Chris Smith
The Directors Company
Theater 3, 311 West 43rd St. (206-1515/
Equity showcase (closes Nov. 16)
Review by David Mackler

Brad Desch appears to tip his hand by calling his play Love in the Age of Narcissism, but if the title is commentary, it is apt in ways Desch probably did not intend. The young urban professionals on display are unhappy to various degrees, and often act in self-destructive ways with a certain pride -- as if it is proof that they exist, and that the pursuit of their happiness will make them happy. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but their shallowness makes no comic (or dramatic) point, and presenting them adorned with a few laugh lines isn't enough.

Jon (David Alan Basche), a lawyer, and his wife, Laura (Alysia Reiner), an artist, are trying to have a baby. Danielle, known as Danny (Maddie Corman), has more success with women than men but conducts a series of conversations with the answering machine of a loser who blew her off. Tess (Amber McDonald), a recent college grad, can be had for backstage passes to a U2 concert. Davis (Richmond Hoxie), a law partner of Jon's, is constantly in pursuit of pussy. Palmer (Amy Landecker) is Jon's old flame who chose a career over marrying him. Laura's senile Uncle Simon (William Severs) comes to live with Jon and Laura for two months. The characters are the play's setup, and they do lots of bellyaching and some pairing off. Little of it was unexpected, and in spite of the recognizability of the situations, little of it was more than a setup for mildly amusing jokes.

That the characters are resolutely two-dimensional isn't the fault of the personable cast, which fights an admirable uphill battle. As the lecherous Davis, Hoxie gets most of the play's laughs - he's a real cartoon, rather than a fake one like the rest. McDonald is bright and amusing as the law firm receptionist who takes her first real job very seriously, and her character really seems to have a personality. No one (Severs included) could overcome the fact that Uncle Simon reeks of sit-com, with more time spent on his predilection for Laura and Danny's underwear than the whether he's faking Alzheimer's in order to be taken care of - as Jon suggests, once.

The physical production, however, was beautifully designed by Dan Kuchar, who provided a set that combines color and design in ways that indicate these characters had good judgment in one area at least -- picking a decorator. Jon's office, his apartment, the bar where he hangs out with Davis, Palmer's apartment, a ramp that serves multiple functions -- all share the stage without crowding. Leslie Bernstein costumed everyone beautifully too, giving free reign to the money these professionals have to spend. Gregory Cohen's lighting design had sophisticated computerized equipment but still managed to keep some actors in darkness. If that was a directorial choice (Chris Smith) it was not helpful.

There were a couple of moments near the end that indicated close-to-real feeling. When Jon storms out after a fight with Palmer, there were glimmers of emotion, but it was more a function of the music (sound design by Bart Fasbender) than character or play. And when he and his wife make oblique confessions to each other, what is indicated is how disappointingly real issues had been considered. Perhaps the story would have worked better as a John O'Hara-type turgid melodrama, rather than as a comedy. And with all that unhappiness around, therapy is mentioned only once, and disparagingly. The script says Jon and Laura live on West End Avenue -- isn't therapy a residency requirement there?

Box Score:

Writing: 1
Directing: 1
Acting: 1
Sets: 2
Costumes: 2
Lighting/Sound: 1

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Copyright 2002 David Mackler