by Margaret Croyden

Photo of Margaret Croyden
Margaret Croyden is a theater reviewer and essayist for the New York Theatre Wire.

Life (X) 3 Do We Need Three Versions of One Idea?
by Yasmina Reza
Directed by Matthew Warchus
Translated by Christopher Hampton
Circle In the Square Theater
50th Street West of Broadway
Reviewed by Margaret Croyden April 22, 2003

I have always been an admirer of playwright Yasmina Reza ever since I saw her celebrated hit "Art" on Broadway in 1998. "Art" received the Tony Award and the New York Drama Critics Circle award for best play of the season. And it was certainly deserved. So it was with great expectation that I attended this oddly entitled play "Life (X) 3," a work that won the Olivier nomination for best play in London. Besides look at the cast: Helen Hunt, John Turturro, Linda Emond, and Brent Spiner. And the director Matthew Warchus, a man with many awards. And let us not forget the well known British writer Christopher Hampton who translated the play from French. Well now, this is quite a roster of important and talented people.

So what happened? Why was I disappointed? Well first to the plot. Sonia (Helen Hunt) is a lawyer married to Henry an astrophysicist (John Turturro); they have a young child who is continually yelling for attention (off stage). They are plainly a bourgeois couple more interested in their work than in their child--especially the mother who seems disgusted with both husband and child. They had invited Hubert and Inez (Brent Spiner and Linda Edmond) another unattractive pair for dinner but they had forgotten the date, so when the guests arrive there is nothing to eat and everyone is disgruntled and disorganized. Both couples are unappealing, argumentative and obviously dysfunctional. After much nasty talk, some of it scientific jargon, the scene is played out (without an intermission) three times from a different prospectus, presumably. But nothing really changes. A few pieces of furniture are moved about but the basic relationships are the same. The people remain singularly nasty.

Now what is their trouble you might ask? Ask away; it is not very clear, despite a lot of talk and some funny lines, but as the scenes repeat, one sees no reason for the three times; soon everything becomes tedious. The invited couple are in a terrible marriage; she is a drunk and cannot fight off the ruthless domineering monster of a husband. The husband is a fatuous bore--a Donald Rumsfeld whom you instantly loathe. Since he is colleague of John Turturro and, as expected, puts him down, makes a play for his wife, and in his overbearing self-righteous manner lectures everyone continually--a totally obnoxious character. Then there is Helen Hunt, who always plays the same role--the ordinary, uninteresting, middle class wife. who dislikes her child, her job, her husband, and flirts with her husband's colleague. John Turturro's character is a schlmeile. Although he screams and raves in a typical John Turturro way, he brings little to the role ;everything seems to be exterior. As the part is written, one doesn't know what his trouble is.

In fact, I don't really know what any of their troubles are. There is plenty of talk about science, the cosmos, the art of scientific discoveries, and so forth--all very pretentious, but incomprehensible. If this is supposed to be a reflection of modern life, it has all been said before and better in numerous plays, books and movies. One wonders what a writer like Ms. Reza was getting at?

On the whole, the actors seem lost. Helen Hunt is uninteresting--playing her bland, every day wife; John Turturro screams, rolls his eyes, and acts like a crazy man--something of a cliche with him; the other two, Linda Emond, who was so successful in Tony Kushner's "Homebody/Kabul" is sometimes effective as a drunken subjugated housewife; but Brent Spiner--though his character is hateful in his haughty struggle for power--gives his role the most density.

However, the fault lies not with the players, but with the play. Yasmina Reza was striving for something intellectual, something unusual, something je ne sais pas quoi, but the gimmick of the three times perspective was a failure. It was painful enough to watch these despicable types once, but three times? Really. [Croyden]

Margaret Croyden's latest book, "Conversations With Peter Brook, 1970-2000," is published by Farrar Straus and Giroux.

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