Film and stage writer Theresa Rebeck returns to the New York theater scene with her latest project, the off-Broadway play "Poor Behavior." Time Out New York's David Cote filed the following report for NY1.
The versatile Theresa Rebeck has run the gamut of styles: one-woman show, modern Greek tragedy, showbiz satire, you name it. Now, she goes after a time-tested genre: the two-marriage play. From Edward Albee's "Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf" to Yasmina Reza's "The God of Carnage," writers have used clashing couples to explode the fault lines in either union. "Poor Behavior" follows that bickering template.
Mind you, the play isn't as innovative or stylish as the works of Albee or Reza; it falls more on the side of Donald Margulies' "Dinner With Friends," with bitchy banter and philosophical noodling mixed in. We are in a country house owned by smart, well-heeled New Yorkers Ella and Peter – that's Katie Kreisler and Jeff Biehl. Their guests for what turns out to be a talky and tempestuous weekend getaway are Ian, a big-mouthed, nihilist Irishman and high-strung Maureen, played by Brian Avers and Heidi Armbruster.
A wine-fueled dinner devolves into a shouting match about the possibility of goodness, Maureen catches Ella and Ian holding each other, and the green-eyed monster of jealousy slithers into this yuppie Eden. What follows is a strained but often funny hybrid of sex farce and psychological one-upmanship, with Ian alternating in the role of innocent jerk and instigator. Ella is the most grounded of this bunch, meaning that Rebeck's setting her up for a reversal.
Evan Cabnet's arch direction and a fresh, hard-working cast keep Rebeck's zingers ricocheting around, but truth is, by the drawn-out second act of this play, you get weary of these self-involved folks and their contrived ethical dilemmas.
Despite comic sparks and solid acting, these characters wear themselves, and us, out. In social situations, I can forgive poor behavior, but never dull company.