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The Mystery of Attraction
Just minutes into this quirky California Lolita scenario it becomes obvious that the reason Roger wants Ray as his stepdaughter-fiancee's defender has more to do with the secrets and lies in this lawyer's life than his legal skills. Before the evening during which Marlane Mayer's The Mystery of Attraction unfolds ends we know most of the secrets and lies that have derailed his career as well as three marriages. And while his second marriage to Sharky, the much mentioned but never seen "love of his life" also led to Ray's estrangement from Sharky's current husband, his brother Warren (Barry Del Sherman), it is the sibling bond that provides an answer to Denise's question about whether anyone would mourn his loss.
Like Marlane Meyer's last play, Chemistry of Change, The Mystery of Attraction gains altitude with strong and often hilariously amusing dialogue and has enough eccentric plot twists to hold your interest. The mystery for the audience is how much of your sense of reality Meyer expects you to check at the door. The main mystery of her play revolves around why two basically smart, guys like Ray and Warren, one a lawyer and the other a cop, make such foolish choices -- or , as Warren puts it at one point, "got off the train. . . off the path they were born to follow" because they "couldn't see into the tunnel and had no faith that there was a light up ahead." To give the mystery of the title a double edge there are also a series of events stemming from Ray's failing law practice, a large unpaid gambling debt and both his and Warren's marital problems.
Worth Street Theater Company's artistic director Jeff Cohen has given the play, which opened last year's Humana Festival, a splendid production. The solid ensemble features two outstanding actors in the main roles. Richard Bekins, who plays Ray, is on stage throughout. Barry Del Sherman, who also appeared appeared in Chemistry, provides most of the humor as his younger brother Warren.
To dramatize Sam Shepard-like talkfest (there's even a fight, but no food throwing) during which the brothers reveal their troubles, there are interchanges with Larry (Jefferson Slinkard), the enforcer assigned to insure that Ray pays his debt, and Denise (an emotionally grounded cameo from O'Connell) which is followed by a final bit of melodrama that seals the brothers' future. Unfortunately the terrifically deadpan Roger and the wordless but eye-catching Vickie are never seen again.
The Mystery of Attraction is never boring, but like Chemistry it tells a story that for all its quirky humor and some of the itriguing questions posed leaves you less than fully satisfied. Too many "plants" and untied loose ends.
The real disappointment is that neither Ray or Warren arouse any strong feelings. Their tragi-comic failure to deal with the opposite sex on an intimate and equal playing field leaves us with portraits of morally bankrupt men who are not fascinating enough to be true anti-heroes. Listening to this tale of marital misadventures and addictive behavior in a theater outside whose doors much more tragic events took place just a short time ago somehow makes one more than a little impatient with these whining, inconsequential losers. When at the end Warren says "We're lost men, Ray, all we have is each other" you won't be alone in thinking that they deserve each other. One can only hope they won't ensnare more women with the misery that seems the mystique of their attraction to the Sharkys and Denises of this world.
Ms. Meyer has enough talent and originality to make her work worth seeing. One of these days she'll strike exactly the right balance between amusing us with her quirks and more fully engaging us emotionally. Hopefully, Jeff Cohen will be on hand to steer that effort.
Chemistry of Change
At This Theater
Leonard Maltin's 2003 Movie and Video Guide
Ridiculous!The Theatrical Life & Times of Charles Ludlam
Somewhere For Me, a Biography of Richard Rodgers
The New York Times Book of Broadway: On the Aisle for the Unforgettable Plays of the Last Century
6, 500 Comparative Phrases including 800 Shakespearean Metaphors by CurtainUp's editor.
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