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“Summer of Lust”—Bad Evidence

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The Cell and The Hive Theatre Company are alternating Bad Evidence with Midsummer Night’s Dream, which they have dubbed their “Summer of Lust.” It’s an ambitious effort, especially given the postage-stamp size of the theatre, located in what was once an elegant private residence in Chelsea.

It is somehow fitting that a “Falling Man” sculpture hovers over the entrance of The Cell Theatre, because in Terry Quinn’s two-act play, Bad Evidence, the guys don’t do well, especially the husbands, Richard Chase (played by Armand Anthony), a university professor in his thirties, and Kevin Stewart (played by Ryan Lee), a Wall Street stockbroker. They have the misfortune to be married to women whose devious behavior is both astonishing and alluring. In this play, it’s the wives who call the shots.

But it doesn’t seem that way in the long first act of Bad Evidence. It’s a Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf? kind of duet. Leah Chase, a United Nations translator, in bra and slip, coolly played by Carmit Levite, is pacing the floor while her husband sleeps. We know immediately that something is horribly wrong. She wakes up Richard, precipitates a post-dinner-party argument, and the battle is on. Leah launches into a series of complaints. No one liked the food she cooked. Richard’s friend, Charlie, presented her in an unflattering light. And, oh yes, are you sleeping with my best friend, Danielle? Leah proposes that each of them “tell the truth” to the other, as if they were dying. The argument and subsequent probing for “hidden truths” and “fresh truth” takes place in bed, as they are having sex, first with Leah on top, who enjoys “having power” over her husband and then with Rich on top. Steamy and well directed, by Kira Simring, it’s an ugly power game during which, among other things, Leah admits she wants to kill her husband, and he admits his infidelity. Although, at one point, Rich is turned-on by his wife’s tears, as the curtain falls, it is Rich who is crumbled in bed and crying.

What, one wonders, will Act II bring?

The subject of modern marriage and its multiple struggles and failures is nothing new. Whether it’s American Beauty or Scenes From a Marriage, we’ve seen the arc of love and passion turn to hate, betrayal and power struggles many times before. The real question is, do we care about the characters? Are they believable? Does their torment touch us? And in the case of this play, will Act II deepen our feelings and open our hearts to Rich and Leah whose marital battles, though believable, are not particularly moving.

Bad Evidence was first produced as a one-act play, and it’s clear playwright Terry Quinn (above) has had trouble figuring out where to go with Rich and Leah. Unfortunately, Act II expands the cast of characters, but does not deepen our feelings. Instead, we are in the land of The Ice Storm, a suburban hell (in this case Nassau County, Long Island) where couples are so bored with their lives that toasts are made “To Fun, Money and the Hemlock Society,” lines of coke are sniffed, and the sexual pairings are more blatant and unexpected.

We are in the living room of Leah’s neighbor, Danielle (Ana Grosse, left), a dance therapist, played unsubtly as a teasing, grind-and-bump sexpot, and her husband, Kevin (Ryan Lee), who appears to be unfazed by his wife’s obvious affair with an uptight, married, New York State Assemblyman, Jeremy Fleischman, (Gary Lee Mahmoud, photo, right below), who resembles, in his intensity, Anthony Weiner. We think we know the type. But he gradually becomes unwound by a combination of liquor, cocaine and unwanted sexual revelations. Mahmoud delivers a highly comic performance that almost steals the show.

The infamous Charlie (Len Rella), then bounces into the party, followed by his pal, Richard and, quite separately, Leah, who has come to confront Danielle about seducing her husband.

Without revealing too much, suffice it to say that whatever sexual configurations we thought we understood between the husbands and wives are shatteringly reconfigured in the last moments of the Second Act. What began as an intimate, two-character drama is transformed into a rollicking and somewhat unbelievable melodrama (with perverse revelations) that tries, in the end, to refocus on Leah and Rich.

“Is this enough?” asks Leah, in the final moments of the play. “Can you stand to feel this out of sync?”

“So unreachable?” says husband Rich, finishing her thought.

Here we come to the heart of the matter, and it’s a question worth asking. About this marriage and every marriage. But somehow, we haven’t peered deeply enough into the heart and soul of Leah and Rich or Danielle and Kevin, to really care about how their lives turn out. This is partly due to the acting, which though competent, does not grab us with the intensity required, and the play itself. Though intelligent and sometimes gripping, Bad Evidence does not cohere or fulfill its ambition as a fully fleshed-out exploration of marriage and power. I kept hoping and wishing that it would.

Play Photo Credit: Garlia Cornelia Jones
Photo of Terry Quinn: Michael Gyory
Photos of “The Falling Man” and The Cell Theatre entrance: Eleanor Foa Dienstag

Bad Evidence, a new play by Terry Quinn
The Cell Theatre
338 West 23rd Street
Through Sunday, July 31, 2011
Check websites for schedules:
The Cell Theatre Company and The Hive Theatre Company

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