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A CurtainUp Los Angeles Review
Poor Behavior

Ian, did you do this? Did you plan it? Did you deliberately destroy our lives?— Ella

Would that be a good thing, or a bad thing?” — Ian

 Poor Behavior
Johanna Day and Reg Rogers in Poor Behavior
(Photo:Craig Schwartz)
This ribald comedy by Theresa Rebeck, enjoying its world premiere at the Mark Taper Forum, is a dark tongue-in-cheek look at two marriages during a week-end at a country cottage two and a half hours from The City. Any City.

We arrive in the middle of a drunken word fight between Ian (Reg Rogers), a verbose Englishman, and Ella (Johanna Day), who starts out lambasting him for criticizing Americans. Their spouses, who can’t get a word in, are beautiful Maureen (Sharon Lawrence), who spends most of her on-stage time weeping loudly and Peter (Christopher Evan Welch), bland and boring.

We’re not sure who instigated the weekend but, as the play goes on, suspicion falls on Ian. He seems to have the most to gain. As Maureen weeps and Peter interjects meaningless non-sequiturs, Ian zeros in on Ella, circling her like an Apache around an endangered wagon train. Ella, bored as she is in her marriage to boring Peter, is reluctant to get out of it.

When they return from grocery shopping late Saturday afternoon, Ian is still at it. Poor Peter takes it out on a hapless bunch of basil.

And so it goes, down to the bitter sad funny end, which end on the note quoted above. When Ella asks, “Did you deliberately destroy our lives?” Ian answers her question with a question —, “Would that be a good thing, or a bad thing?”

Out of destruction, a new life or new marriage could begin. Or not. He seems genuinely confused.

The author says in the program notes that the play asks a lot of questions about marriage, questioning its durability as an institution. One actor said maybe its just in one of those arid spells that married couples get over if they have a chance. Maybe that’s why there are bonds of marriage that are reinforced by church and state and the legal system to make them a little harder to break, to give people time to mull.

That’s why the insane laughter, high-pitched and sardonic. That’s why we laugh along with it, laughing at ourselves and with ourselves.

John Lee Beatty has done a superb job on the cozy cottage that’s the embodiment of home. Ben Stanton’s lighting design reinforces it, from twilight to midnight to morning. Doug Hughes directs with his finger on the pulse of the rollicking pace of the play that never lets up. This is sustained by Reg Rogers as Ian. His tumbling lines run over each other, as Ian is a character that never stops talking. He’s always on. Despite a desperate need to get out of his marriage, he seems to be excusing himself, much like the state of marriage in this country. He finally persuades Ella to come along.

Johanna Day makes a practical Ella, a far cry from the weeping Maureen. She’s wary of Ian, despite the attraction. Maureen, the pretty girl with nothing else to offer who succumbs to weeping, is given more life than she deserves by Sharon Lawrence. And, in one of the play’s best performances, Christopher Evan Welch holds the stage every chance he gets, losing no chance for humor or individuality.

Even though Ella feels Ian has destroyed their lives, she, like Ian and the play itself, poses a tormenting question: can marriage survive and, if it does, is the flame worth the candle?


Poor Behavior
Playwright: Theresa Rebeck
Director: Doug Hughes
Cast: Ian (Reg Rogers), Ella (Johanna Day), Maureen (Sharon Lawrence), Peter (Christopher Evan Welch).
Scenic Design: John Lee Beatthy
Costume Design: Catherine Zuber
Lighting Design: Ben Stanton
Original Music and Sound Design: David Van Tieghem
When: September 18, 2011-October 16, 2011.
Where: Mark Taper Forum, 135 N. Grand Ave., Los Angeles. Reservationsl (213) 972-7231.
Reviewed by Laura Hitchcock on Sept. 18.
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