Complicated couplings


By Richard Willett
Directed by Eliza Beckwith
New Directions Theater
At the Homegrown Theater
100th St. and Broadway (229-7500)
Equity showcase (closes March 1)
Review by Doug DeVita

It's hard not to like Richard Willett's Triptych, presented by the New Directions Theater Company at the Homegrown Theater. It's about sex.

Essentially a comedy about being true to one's sexual self, Triptych is set against the controversial nude posture photo study that was conducted in the Ivy League colleges from the '30s to the '60s. The story begins in contemporary Chelsea as a gay couple, Cary and Bernard, break up and take very different paths as they explore their sexuality. Cary tries to find his inner heterosexual self, while Bernard gets involved with Dennis, a man who wants to turn Bernard into Bernice. It is Cary's quest for spiritual, romantic, and sexual transcendence that occupies the bulk of the evening, as his family's troubled sexual history is played out via a series of flashbacks that take us from Radcliffe and Harvard in the '30s, where we meet Cary's future aunt, grandmother and grandfather, to suburban New York in the early '70s, where we see his troubled upbringing.

Triptych is a play with a good deal of potential. Unfortunately, despite some gorgeous writing, there is so much going on in Cary's co-existing pasts and present that the main point of the evening gets lost in all the exposition. Instead of being an organic element, the backdrop of the nude-posture photo study seems plotted with little or no reason except to give the play a heft it doesn't need. And whenever the story pulls away from Cary and focuses on the exploits of Bernard/Bernice and Dennis and the trans-gender underworld they inhabit, the abrupt shifts from seriously funny to sit-com ridiculousness are intrusive jolts that upset the balance of the piece. The evening was not helped by Eliza Beckwith's direction, which allowed the play to ramble along, resulting in a sluggish production with no overall tone or clear point of view.

The cast as a whole took professional, workmanlike approaches to their roles, with one performance standing out. As Cary, Bill Dobbins had some charming moments; as Bernard/Bernice, Charles Loffredo looked acutely embarrassed. Joseph Jude Zito portrayed Dennis with a realism that was frightening, and Amy Staats was hilarious in the small role of Cary's Aunt Debbie. But the evening belonged to Patricia Randell as Rosemary, the woman Cary gets romantically involved with. A masterpiece of comic timing, Ms. Randell's interpretation of a single career woman was a fabulous creation: at once wary and trusting, she owned the stage whenever she was on it.

Beth Turomsha's simple but effective lighting and the equally simple costumes by Kim B. Walker helped to establish time and place as the story zig-zags back and forth; the set, by Kenichi Toki, was simply simple. The sound, by Ian P. Murphy, however, seemed to suffer from a poor audio system. (Also featuring Michael Aubele, Cindy Chesler, Lynn Laurence, Thomas Luczak, Jerome Richards, and Derek Richardson.)

Box Score:

Writing: 1
Directing: 1
Acting: 1
Set: 1
Costumes: 1
Lighting/Sound: 1

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Copyright 1999 Doug DeVita