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A CurtainUp Review
Three Changes

I thought it would be good. And, also, to be honest, I thought it was sort of, somehow, important. You know. Family. This idea —connective tissue. It's all we have, really. I think it's basic. It's a basic human need. And I thought it would be good for Nathan. He didn't say anything, but I think he was happy, you know, to reach out, to connext--.—Laurel
Three Change
Maura Tierney as Laurel, (center) Dylan McDermott as Nate and Scott Cohen as Hal in Three Changes
(Photo: Joan Marcus)
The events that follow the above quoted audience addressing speech may make you wonder just what Nicky Silver's new play, Three Changes, is all about. Full of unanswered questions as Silver's play is, that mini monologue which opens the play gets to the heart of his basic intention. The " It", Laurel (Maura Tierney) thinks would be good, honest and important refers to a reunion between her husband Nate (Dylan McDermott ) and his older brother Hal (Scott Cohen) with whom he's been out of touch for years.

The reason for the familial disconnect isn't anything all that mysterious. It seems Nate, 45, and Hal, 47, grew up in a suburb of New York. Nate being bright and bent on becoming a writer, felt a need to get away from home which early college admission enabled him to do. After college he went to Hollywood where he apparently had some success though for the past few years noone had a clue as to his whereabouts and activities. Thus the mystery is not so much why he left home but why he felt compelled to make such a total break —and why, he has suddenly contacted his brother who's followed a much more mundane path as a Morgan Stanley executive living in a one-bedroom apartment in Manhattan.

Wilson Milam, who's made a name directing taut melodramas like The Lieutenant of Inishmore and Killer Joe, handles the segues between the play's frequent asides by the various characters to the audience and the action in Laurel and Nate's apartment with finesse. Neil Patel's set, with a downstage area for the monologues and scrim wall in the apartment to allow for glimpses into the kitchen and bedroom, contributes to this smooth back and forth between the action in the apartment and the downstage audience enlightening asides.

Tierney, Cohen and McDermott, whose TV credentials ramp up the play's box office appeal, are excellent live theater performers. However, the liveliest performances come from Aya Cash and Brian J. Smith as two peripheral characters. At any rate, none of the actors can make these characters get as firm a grip on our interest and sympathy as their creator intended. There are just too many holes and credibility gaps in the direction this reunion takes and the shift from realism to an Albee-like ending, similar to his last Off-Broadway play, Beautiful Child. (Curtainup review). Intriguing as it is, that finale is too abrupt and precocious, a case of the playwright teasing a do-it-yourself interpretation from the audience.

About those holes and credibility gaps: The first meeting of the long incommunicado brothers is credibly enough and builds up the audience's anticipation for Nate's festering resentment and sense of abandonment to surface. However, is it really likely that a get-together after so many years would culminate in playing a board game? It might make sense if it were tied to some favorite earlier moments during the brothers' childhood or if it were more clearly Laurel's way of avoiding any awkward confrontations. When that confrontation does come (Nate insists that Hal clarify his remark about everyone having a tragedy by detailing his own) and Hal (not too surprisingly) reveals that he's down on his luck and (somewhat more surprisingly) that he's a recently reformed drug addict saved by a newfound belief in God.

The born-again aspect of Hal's persona brings no more details about his and Nate's family background than anything else. While we learn quite a bit about the family of Gordon (Brian J. Smith), the amoral, drugg-y runaway Nate picks up to be his boy-toy, there's an almost total paucity of information about the brothers' past and present family history. There's a hint that the mother was a difficult and volatile but not a clue as to whether religion played a role in their family or whether there was enough major dysfunction to make Hal so eager to get away from home and without further contact. We don't even know if the parents are dead or alive, still together and in their suburban house.

It's fairly understandable to see how what started out to be a dinner date ends with Hal spending the night on the living room sleeper couch. While he doesn't break a leg, Hal's having no job and nowhere to go makes us willing to swallow his turning into Silver's version of The Man Who Came to Dinner or, given the sinister aura, variations of plays like The Homecoming and The Caretaker. Also lending credence to Laurel and Nate's allowing him to be a permanent part of their lives is their hum-drum existence and the strain in the marriage caused by her repeated miscarriages (not to mention his adultery with Steffi). The charismatic Hal (who, as played by Cohen is actually more manipulative than charismatic) turns out to be a better antidote for Laurel's feelings of emptiness than the dog Nate brought her after her last miscarriage.

It's when Hal turns the two in a bed-one on the couch setup into a menage-a-quatre that the situation becomes more of a head scratcher. Silver seems to be wavering between two stories: First there's the love-hate relationship of two brothers, a modern Cain and Able fable about two brother, as Beautiful Child evoked the biblical Abraham and Isaac story. Second he's trying to create a portrait of an emotionally unstable artist — a man ruthless about fulfilling the promise of his talent before it goes to waste, using everyone around him not only as characters, but to satisfy his need for sex, love and power. And oh yes, there's the business about finding God which may be Silver's way of saying people yearn so intensely for family closeness that if they can't forge those connections on their own, there may be some higher power that will let them do so in whatever way they can.

If you're expecting another Food Chain, or Pterodactyls, you'll find Three Changes too serious, short on quips, and derivative. Whether you find it a Hi, Ho Silver or a Ho, Hum Silver experience, it will probably lead to animated post mortems about what it's really means and whether you should care about these characters.

By Nicky Silver
Directed by Wilson Milam
. Cast: Dylan McDermott (Nate), Maura Tierney (Laurel), Aya Cash (Steffi), Scott Cohen (Hal and Brian J. Smith (Gordon)
Scenic design: Neil Patel
Costume design: Theresa Squire
Lighting design: Ben Stanton
Sound design: Bart Fasbender
Stage Manager: William H. Lang. Running Time: 2 hours and 15 minutes, includes one intermission
Playwrights Horizons' Mainstage Theater 416 West 42nd Street (212) 279-4200 From 8/22/08; opening 9/16/08; Extended before opening, now closing 10/03/08-
Tuesday through Fridays at 8pm; Saturdays at 2:30 & 8pm; Sundays at 2:30 & 7:30 pm Tickets: $65; $20 rush tickets, subject to availability, day of performance only, starting one hour before showtime to patrons aged 30 and under.
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer 9/14/08
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