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A CurtainUp Review
The Scene

It's the only true pleasure left in the world, trashing other people. Especially when they have something you want: Money. Or power. Or just, coherence. . .—Charlie's sour outlook on life is substantiated by his failed acting career and dependence on his wife's paycheck as a TVtalk show booking agent.
Tony Shalhoub and Anna Camp  in The Scene.
Tony Shalhoub and Anna Camp in The Scene. (Photo: Joan Marcus)
Theresa Rebeck's The Scene, a thoroughly modern, sharply written variation of a fairly familiar marital triangle plot, was the scene stealer at the last Humana Theater Festival. Our man in Humana, Chris Whaley, found Rebecca Taichman's direction sure-footed and Anna Camp's performances as a sexy, bubble-headed arriveste from Ohio mesmerizing. Ms. Taichman is again in charge for the very handsomely staged Second Stage production. And Ms. Camp is once more playing the foxy sexpot whose question mark punctuated psychobabble is as hilarious as it is grating.

Camp's Clea is not likely to stir memories of Wonderful Town's two lovable sisters from Ohio. Her oh, my gosh delight at being in New York ("I mean, mind-blowing, right, it's just so surreal, the lights and the water, it's like unbelievable") never hides her predatory and voracious determination to make her way into the scenes where successful media types are having the most fun — just as her little black dress never obscures her physical assets. But unlike The Little Dog Laughed the last Second Stage comedy about the mores of a particular contemporary milieu which was widely viewed as Julie White's win-win-win vehicle, this production is buoyed by its entire quartet of actors.

Camp's Clea is a tin(wo)man, whose heartlessness makes her the destructive centerpiece of Rebeck's vitriolic story about basically unlikeable people taken in with the you can't be too rich or too thin or too young culture. She's fun to watch, to laugh at and admire for the way she often sizes up the people ("(you know, I was at this party last week and it was such a scene. . .it was this wild party, like surreal, and then at one point in the evening? I just realized, that everyone was just totally shit faced. . .") But she's a cartoon figure of vapid but ambitious New York newcomers. Given Clea's reference to the friend who has taken her to various parties ("She's like the total scene-machine"), she's a cookie cutter cartoon with plenty of others, perhaps a tad less monstrous, making the scene.

The character who engages us on a more emotional level and makes The Scene rise above its slickness and often predictable plot developments is Tony Shalhoub as Charlie, the down and out middle-aged, angst and anger riddled actor whose marriage Clea destroys without a flicker of conscience, Not that Charlie is an especially sympathetic character. He's hardly a guy any woman would be lucky to have as a husband and be willing to support through a long siege of unemployment. He shows little promise of getting on with his life, preferring to rant against the life styles he still covets.

Being the most full-blown character doesn't mean that Shalhoub isn't also funny. Even the couple in front of me who sat stone-faced through most of the first act broke out laughing during the scene when Charlie and Clea's initial hostile meeting at a party is unsurprisingly followed by something quite different in his own apartment. Shalhoub's passion mixed with the awkwardness of a man too old and out of practice to keep up with an uninhibited twenty-two year old's energies is a rioutous bit of physical comedy.

Shalhoub, who's far from a has-been in real life (he's the popular Monk of the TV series), also deftly delivers several way biggerr than mouthful-sized monologues, especially one incisively funny diatribe about a humiliating lunch with a long despised high school friend now slimmed down to fit his persona as a TV series producer who is "on his cell phone a full five minutes before he can even say hello. . .While I sit there grinning like a SCHMUCK, it's okay, man, I know you got to hang on this endless phone call 'cause you're so fucking important, you're a completely essential piece of the whole mind-numbing motor that keeps capitalism itself running.". Charley may indeed be something of a schmuck but he is a schmuck who tugs at your heat strings as when he counters his wife Stella's (Patricia Heaton) accusation that his mid-life fling doesn't even have a shred of originality with "I wasn't looking for originality, Stella. I was looking to feel like someone who still had a shred of life in him!"

Heaton, who like Shalhoub is a well known TV sitcom actor (Everybody Loves Raymond), brings flawless timing to the role of the literally and figuratively supportive wife. She hates her job as a booking agent for a TV talk show but it pays the rent on a Manhattan apartment with a fireplace. Charley's infidelity not only shocks and outrages her but promises to end their plan to adopt a baby from China.

While Christopher Even Welch as Charley's friend Lewis,has the smallest and least defined role (we don't have an inkling of what he does for a living though it's safe to assume it's something or other in TV) no one is really a minor contributor to this marital mess. If I were an acting teacher, I'd want my students to see how humor can be mined by one actor (Camp) with a way over-the-top performance, while another (Welch) can set off gales of laughter with facial expressions and body language that say as much as reams of words. Lewis's seduction-interruptus is just one priceless example.

Second Stage has spared no expense to support play and players with top of the line production values. Derek McLane's savvy modular design creates a penthouse terrace and three different apartments. The penthouse bookends the seven scenes and supports the Lady or the Tiger/ Dangling Man ending which leaves it up to you to decide whether Charley ends up taking the tiger exit or the door leading to another chance to connect with lady luck.

The Scene like Rebeck's previous Second Stage production, The Water's Edge, is a domestic drama, but a lot funnier and more believable. It may not be the stuff of social satire for the ages, but it is an entertaining sendup of our celebrity conscious culture. If it gives new meaning to anything, it's the little in the ever fashionable little black dress.

By Theresa Rebeck
Directed by Rebecca Taichman
Cast: Anna Camp (Clea), Patricia Heaton (Stella), Tony Shalhoub (Charlie) and Christopher Evan Welch (Lewis).
Sets: Derek McLane
Costumes: Jeff Mahshie
Lights: Natasha Katz
Sound: Martin Desjardins
Running Time: 2 hours 15 minute plus an intermission
Second Stage Theater, 307 West 43rd Street, Clinton; (212) 246-4422.
From From 12/14/06 to 2/04/07; opening 1/11/07.
Tuesday at 7:00pm, Wednesday — Saturday at 8:00pm, Wednesday and Saturday at 2:00pm, and Sunday at 3:00pm. ( All evening performances the week of January 22 will begin at 7:00pm.
Tickets are $71.50, with limited number of student rush tickets are $10 available 30 minutes prior to curtain.
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer based on 1/16/07

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