In 2008, Michael Weller’s 50 Words featured a married New York architect, Adam Penzius, having an affair with an offstage married woman. Now we get that Midwestern woman, Melinda “Lindy” Metz, married to Hugh Metz, who runs a family bicycle-manufacturing business and is running also for political office.
Lindy, mother of two teen-age boys, is a bipolar charmer, medicinal pill popper, former poet and present Special Ed teacher. She and Hugh have a putatively functional marriage, though she will do odd things, such as leaving a dinner party by the political muckamuck sponsoring Hugh in mid-meal because she disapproves of the hosts’ reactionary attitudes.
Long ago, the Metzes were globetrotting swingers, but now Hugh is struggling to make Lindy respectable, especially after he discovers her seeing Adam in New York, whether as friend or lover remains unclear. So we follow in this two-character play the tribulations of a marriage whose character can change in a trice from cozy and sexually fulfilling to fraught and sarcastic.
Weller writes good dialogue both for the flighty and witty Lindy and the by now staid and often exasperated Hugh. In the background remain the Metzes two sons who prove a bit of a problem and, late in the play, a rather major one.
The five scenes are supposed to take us to various seasons in the years as welll as in the marriage. Making some, though not full, use of this is David Auburn, who, after one very successful play (Proof) has turned mostly director. Here he does move his characters around effectively, though he may have them sitteing side by side on a center-stage couch facing the audience a bit too potatoishly.
Fortnately for us, both actors are eminently good-looking and talented, good company for each other onstage and for us in the audience. Joely Richardson, of the distinguished thespian clan, Is all too rarely seen on the New York stage. She is the ideal Lindy, in equal degree nervous and nervous-making, enchanting and enraging. Supremely sexy and playful, she is tantalizing in her irresponsibility. The handsome, virile Cotter Smith compellingly conveys a man buffeted between love for his wife and frustration by her volatility. Making the most of parlous interplay, the couple hold our interest during the piece’s 85-minute duration that feels just right.
I greatly admired the changes of Lindy’s hairdo from scene to scene, which Ms. Richardson matched with strikingly concomitant mood changes. Wit there is throughout, as well as some surprises. “How bad was I?” Lindy asks at one point; “on a scale of 99 to 100?” We sympathize with Hugh’s coming home with “pounding heart. I never know which Lindy I’ll find in my house.” And how well Hugh sums up their difference: “Some people scream when they hurt. Others . . . plan.”
Beowulf Borrit has designed a most credible apartment and its dramatic changes; Wade Laboisonniere’s costumes have the proper, ever so slightly provincial elegance. Jeff Croiter’s versatile lighting clinches the seasonal atmosphere.
Despite a reference to the title in the text, one is left a bit puzzled about it. Why side effects, when all the effects are perfectly direct with only soupcon of piquant ambiguity?
I can’t say much for Amy Herzog’s 4000 Miles, which strikes me very much as a case of having nothing to say and saying it all too well. Like the Weller play, this, too, has a tie-in to an earlier work of the author’s, After the Revolution, and this, too, is of infinitesimal interest.
That play dealt with the descendants of thirties Jewish radicals in conflict with their elders; here we have the elderly lady of that play, Vera, turned 91 and grandmother to the quirky Leo, who drops in on her, his bike in hand, at 3 AM for no very good reason.
True, his New York girlfriend Bec broke up with him, but he seems not to have biked the 4000 miles from Seattle merely to see her, and certainly hasn’t stopped in St. Paul to visit his hated mother and his adopted sister, Lily, for whom he harbors more than—or is it less than?—brotherly feelings. Again rejected by Bec, he drops in on Vera, his beloved granny.
The play is chiefly about the warm but unstable relationship between Leo and Vera, a kind of odd couple, along with some minor side issues of even lesser interest. The writing is mediocre, i.e., TV-style at most, and the whole thing comes off as a gratuitous exercise in advanced futility.
There is a customarily fine performance from Mary Louise Wilson as Vera, even though saddled with innumerable “whaddayacallit”s, memory lapses more appropriate to Alzheimer’s, which, unlike the writing, is not the problem here. For similar humor, there is an irritating coeval woman friend across the hall, with whom Vera communicates only by telephone.
A no less desperate attempt, albeit at drama, is the story of the demise of Leo’s bicycling partner and pal midway through their crosscontinental trip. It is doled out in supposedly suspenseful installments, merely to relate a freak accident second only in credibility to bubonic plague.
The one sure-fire thing here, besides Ms. Wilson, is Lauren Helpern’s fascinating Greenwich Village pad set, providing us with what little relief there is from the tedium of the play. A mile, we are told, is as good as a miss; just try to imagine what 4000 are good as.
John Simon has written for over 50 years on theatre, film, literature, music and fine arts for the Hudson Review, New Leader, New Criterion, National Review,New York Magazine, Opera News, Weekly Standard, Broadway.com and Bloomberg News. He reviews books for the New York Times Book Review and Washington Post. He has written profiles for Vogue, Town and Country, Departures and Connoisseur and produced 17 books of collected writings. Mr. Simon holds a PhD from Harvard University in Comparative Literature and has taught at MIT, Harvard University, Bard College and Marymount Manhattan College.
To learn more, visit the JohnSimon-Uncensored.com website.