“The Perplexed” should be one of the events of the theatre this spring. A Richard Greenberg script directed by Lynne Meadow and presented by the Manhattan Theatre Club – what could possibly go wrong? As it turns out, the script leaves this production snake-bit from the beginning. A glorious set and a solid cast can not make up for the fact that the script is overly long and the characters rather unengaging.
The action all takes place in the library of the Fifth Avenue apartment among various members of two families. The Resnicks and the Stahls have been involved with one another for decades. The occasion is a wedding between the two, and the characters come and go as the need to take refuge from the social maelstrom of the affair offstage comes and goes. This could go Oscar Wilde/George Bernard Shaw witty or Neil Simon middle-brow funny. Instead, it goes more like a Shakespearean comedy in that it thinks it is much funnier than it is. Apart from a few lines that connect, most of it is a stand-up comic slowly dying on stage.
There are bright spots in this production. In particular, I enjoyed Zane Pais as Micah Stahl (a medical student who has shocked his family and Page 6 of the New York Post by doing gay porn, mostly for fun), Patrick Breen as James Arlen (a once successful writer whose publisher has dropped him) and Margaret Colin as Evy Arlen-Stahl (a member of the New York City Council). They manage to get a few laughs, and their characters are not entirely forgettable.
Frank Wood plays Joseph Stahl, father of Micah and husband of Evy, of whom the playwright says in listing the dramatis personae “Something hollowed out about him.” This performance has the most promise in that there is some serious internal conflict and family pain. Wood does as much with that as the lines allow, but it could be so much more.
James and Patricia Persaud (Anna Itty – caregiver to the permanently off-stage father of Joseph) have a solid scene wherein he tries to fathom why she is constantly so happy. Her simple view is that taking care of a wealthy man in his 90s in New York is better than getting robbed in her home country of Guyana. The exchange is timely, well crafted and nicely executed. It is, perhaps, the best part of the work.
Full marks to the technical team who were unhindered by the script. The set is gorgeous and Santos Loquasto deserves whatever awards come with it. Rita Ryack’s costumes fit with the set quite well.
Regrettably, these high points do not make up for the balance of the work. Often, there are changes that one could propose that would strengthen a particular show. In this case, the script needs signfiicant altering, the very foundation of the play.
Running Time: 2 Hours 15 minutes with one intermission.
The Perplexed is playing through March 29, 2020, at Stage 1 New York City Center, 131 West 55th Street, New York City. For more information and tickets, visit City Center’s website.