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A CurtainUp Review
Life (X) 3

You'll have to admit something's gone wrong with this evening.
---Hugo, about Yasmina Reza's disastrous dinner party for which the guests not only arrive a day early but in the midst of a family squabble.
It's the dinner party from hell.. Sonia and Henry, the hosts (Helen Hunt and John Turturro) have been squabbling. Inez and Hubert, the guests (Linda Emond and Brent Spiner) are also on edge, as is evident from his impatience (an apparently more usual than unusual attitude). Worse yet, the guests arrive a day early which means that the menu consists of the wine they bring, a few nibbles (Cheezits and chocolate lady fingers) and lots of verbal fireworks shades of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf à la Yasmina Reza, who has feasted on elegant pastiche plays ever since her super hit Art.

It is indeed just a matter of time before the sarcastic Hubert challenges his host to admit that something has gone wrong with the evening. As Sonia and Henry's unseen but often heard six-year-old is sure to get the best of his frazzled parents, so this dinner party is as doomed to turn into rambunctious confrontations and to dash Henry's hopes for revitalizing his floundering career as a scientist with a ground-breaking publication.

With her favorite director, Matthew Warchus, and translator, Christopher Hampton, once again on board, Live (X) 3 bears the hallmarks we've come to expect of a Reza play -- elegant staging and dialogue as sharp in English as in the original French. As the perception of an expensive modern painting that contains no images stirred up more questions about friendship than paintings in Art so Reza has here given her modern drawing room comedy a stylishly scientific spin. With a bow to Michael Frayn's much more substantial Copenhagen, the playwright has applied her own ever so loose view of the chaos theory to tell the same story three times. Each telling provides a slight twist on the characters, their inner and interpersonal conflicts, and the details of the party -- each with a different ending.

The episodes have enough laughs so that you might not realize until midway through the second and best of the intermissionless scenes that the characters, unlike those in Art and Unexpected Man lack likeability and essentially serve as cardboard props for the thrice-told tale gimmick. In short, the play is as insubstantial as the food being served.

Helen Hunt (Sonia), John Turturro (Henry)
Helen Hunt as Sonia, John Turturro as Henry (Photo: Joan Marcus)
The New York production has imported the slick staging of the London version and has quite cleverly adjusted the set to the Circle-in-the-Square's notoriously difficult stage. The circular living room has been expertly fitted to make the long stage look less rectangular. The set also rotates with each scene shift. This works well for the audience sitting all around stage.

Except for Linda Emond none of the actors are very convincing as Parisians. John Turturro's intensely needy and full of spit (literally) Henry is energetic but a far cry from the more soft-spoken, understated take on the part by Mark Rylance admired by Lizzie Loveridge in the London production. Sonia who ranges from bitchy to supportive, depending on which of the three versions of the story you think really took place, is played by Helen Hunt. She looks wonderful, whether in a bathrobe or a slinky black pants outfit, but she brings more petulance than emotional shading to her role.

Linda Emond
Linda Emond as Inez (Photo: Joan Marcus)
Despite Turturro and Hunt's box office draw, the bickering guests are far better. Brent Spiner's s Hubert is full of sacrcasm that veers strongly towards nastiness, especially vis-a-vis the "hausfrau " wife he puts down relentlessly. Best of all is Linda Emond. Fortunately, she does not disappear, as she did after her stunning monologue in Hombebody/Kabul. She again has a terrific monologue and her every gesture is fun to watch -- the way she tucks at her skirt, the tightning of the mouth, and the hand covering the rip in her pantyhose which has begun to annoy her husband even as, after countless refills of her wine glass, it disturbs her less.

While Emond's Inez has the last word on that run in her hosiery with "I'm quite happy to go on wearing something that is ruining my husband's evening", it's Hubert who sums up Ms. Reza's attempt to justify and give meaning to the trivialness of Life (X) 3: "I was thinking about the relative importance of things -- about what's interesting and what isn't. Apparently, empty moments stay incised in the memory, trivial words can engage your whole being." That remark during the middle scene begs the question of whether this dinner party is really worth incising itself into our memory via it's three-fold repetition. Given the difficult times we live in, I'd opt for for less intellectualizing and the really empty but delicious humor of another British import, The Play What I Wrote.

Links to Reviews of Other Plays by Yasmina Reza
Art London . . .Broadway
Conversations After a Burial
Unexpected Man London & Off-Broadway and Los Angeles

LIFE (X) 3 Written Yasmina Reza
Translated by Christopher Hampton
Directed by Matthew Warchus
WITH: Helen Hunt (Sonia), John Turturro (Henry), Brent Spiner (Hubert) and Linda Emond (Inez). Design by Mark Thompson
Lighting Design by Hugh Vanstone
Music Composed by Gary Yershon
Sound Design by Christopher T. Cronin
Circle in the Square, 1633 Broadway, (at 50th St
Tues-Sat @ 8PM, Wed & Sat @ 2PM, Sun @ 3PM-- $80
Caveat: Be prompt-- no intermission, no seating after play begins! 3/11/03-7/06/03; opening 3/31/03
Review by Elyse Sommer based on April 3rd performance

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