Johanna Day and Reg Rogers in Poor Behavior (© Craig Schwartz)
In Theresa Rebeck's new play, Poor Behavior, the morality of two couples is put to the test as one of the husbands claims to be having an affair with his friend's wife. It's quite a simple concept. What is the limit of morality, and is it really adultery if your spouse already suspects it? Before I explore these questions, I'd like to start with the woman behind the play, Theresa Rebeck. I try to be as current and knowledgeable about playwrights as any serious theater student should be. And I'm slightly embarrassed when someone talks about a play or a playwright with whom I'm not familiar. I usually nod along and make vague criticisms to make it seem like I have valuable information to contribute to the conversation. Theresa Rebeck is one of those playwrights. I know, I'm ashamed. Tonight was my first introduction to Theresa Rebeck's work and the worlds that she creates and I'm interested to get to know more. Poor Behavior, a world premiere production at Center Theater Group's Mark Taper Forum, is bursting with life and fury. As my friend Jacquee and I sat watching each character break down the fabric of their lives in front of us, I couldn't help but feel simultaneously infuriated and enthralled. The evening's events in Poor Behavior began as many do, in a kitchen where two couples have had a little too much to drink. One of the wives, Ella, is arguing with the husband of the other, Ian, over nothing more than a simple dinner table dispute about the subjective use of the word "beautiful." It's a situation I feel as though I've seen before, perhaps in CTG's production of Yasmina Reza's God of Carnage last year? The rest of the production unfolded in the way many do, with friends destroying each other. All that is left is the shreds of four human beings who used to be relatively contented with their lives. Nothing ground-breaking, but the four-person ensemble cast delivers a range of incredibly powerful performances, with Johanna Day as the adulteress and Ella as the stand-out. All the actors deftly handle Rebeck's dark comedy and are able to switch tone on a dime without losing the audience, a skill many actors think they possess but few actually do. The scenic design by John Lee Beatty is excellent, and Ben Stanton's lighting design is, as always, perfect. The production itself is wonderful. The flaw, for me, is Rebeck's choice to attempt to answer the question that she poses instead of presenting a situation and leaving it up to the audience to fill in the blanks. As she says in the program, Poor Behavior is inspired by an event from her own life that mirrors the facts of the play, and she is unable to distance the characters from her own experiences. As far as Los Angeles theater is concerned, Center Theatre Group has always offered incredibly exciting work, and their world premiere production of Theresa Rebeck's Poor Behavior is no exception.
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