Thursday, September 18, 2008

No Silver Lining

Three Changes
Written by Nicky Silver
Directed by Wilson Milam
Starring Dylan MacDermott, Maura Tierney, Scott Cohen, Aya Cash, Brian J. Smith

Performances from August 22 to October 3, 2008

Playwrights Horizons
416 West 42nd Street

McDermott, Tierney and Cohen in Three Changes
(photo: Joan Marcus
In Nicky Silver’s Three Changes, a Manhattan couple’s seemingly contended home life is shattered by the unexpected arrival from Los Angeles of the husband’s brother, creator of a hit TV series who’s down and out following its cancellation and his subsequent trip to rehab.

Nate and Laurel’s relationship is turned inside out by Hal, whose presence brings long-festering hard feelings between the brothers to the surface; Laurel finds herself falling for her brother-in-law, Nate’s affair with Bloomingdale’s employee Steffi hits the skids, and Gordon–a teenaged hustler Hal falls for–moves in with Hal on the couple’s sofa. Simple adulterous betrayal eventually morphs into violence and suicide.

It’s difficult to figure out what Silver’s up to with Three Changes. Since none of these people is written with any shred of psychological credibility or consistency, it’s impossible to read the play as a straightforward tragicomedy about malleable relationships. Likewise, if we’re not meant to take Three Changes literally and instead accept it on a metaphorical-allegorical level, there’s not much to validate it on that plane either.

Hal’s swift—and implausibly easy—demolition of the very fabric of Nate and Laurel’s existence is rendered in extremely shallow brushstrokes, with no nuance and unexpectedly clumsy exposition. At times, Silver seems to be checking off other plays that revolve around unexpected, malevolent visits (I thought of Pinter’s The Homecoming and Albee’s The American Dream, because both received recent productions on Manhattan stages, to this play’s detriment.)

Silver’s usual forte–snappy dialogue spoken by sharply-drawn caricatures–largely deserts him here, so instead he serves up increasingly desperate attempts to make an essentially meaningless exercise look fancier. Nate and Laurel often come to the front of the stage to soliloquize, occasionally responding to each other’s statements, while Steffi—who feels uneasily shoehorned into the play each time she appears—comments on certain events she’s certainly not privy to: when Laurel and Hal are up late one night in the apartment, chatting, drinking and kissing, Steffi tells us she’s sure they end up making love (she says it less tactfully, to be sure).

On Neil Patel’s economical Manhattan apartment set–featuring transparent walls to allow us glimpses through the living room into the adjoining bedroom, bathroom and kitchen–Wilson Milam capably directs a cast that consistently outshines the threadbare material. Dylan MacDermott and Maura Tierney are a believable couple, giving subtle hints at telling us more about their characters than they’re allowed to show. Similarly, Scott Cohen nearly transforms the self-contradictory Hal from a simple-minded plot device to a real person, while Aya Cash (Steffi) and Brian J. Smith (Gordon) can barely keep their heads above water—through no fault of their own, of course.

Originally posted on

No comments: