Pictured: Mark L. Montgomery and Deanna Myers. Photo by Liz Lauren.
Review: THE SCENE at Writers Theatre
By Kelsey McGrath
Theresa Rebeck is a master of dialogue and a craftswoman of character. Her 2004 work, THE SCENE — according to Writers Theatre where it is now playing — “explores the identity crisis that can occur when a white man, struggling with his inability to find a breakthrough in his chosen profession, suddenly has his interests and buried frustrations unleashed as a consequence of a series of questionable choices.” But the plot is what is not delicious about this work. The playwright’s driving dialogue catches the audience ear, echoing their own vernacular. We then inhabit the characters on stage, vacillating between our reality and theirs.
Rebeck constructs Charlie as an acid-tongued, lion of a man. He is equal parts nostalgia and demise. He is the “white man, struggling” we follow throughout the show; explosively played by Mark L. Montgomery. In his pursuit “to feel,” Charlie is a rampant wildfire of yearning and inhibition; neglectful of whom he consumes in his wreckage. The spark is Clea, a recent New York transplant with surreal wonder in her eyes and Millennial lingo in her mouth. Initially, Charlie dismisses the vapid vixen, but her clandestine manipulative nature brings him to his knees. Deanna Myers effortlessly embodies the sensitive, but brilliant stereotype with zeal and authenticity. And for too-many-moments-to-admit, this writer heard herself on stage and swore she’d said that exact same thing… Stella, Charlie’s “Nazi priestess” wife, is played by Charin Alvarez and we don’t get to enjoy her nearly enough. Stella comes in tantalizing bursts and we’re rooting for her the whole time. She is vulnerable. She is loving. She is the breadwinner. At his climax, Charlie burns her and leaves the open wound. Lewis (La Shawn Banks) is a saving grace to the story. Thoughtfully performed, Lewis is Charlie’s best friend and Stella’s healer. He grounds the chaos of the surrounding relationships.
THE SCENE is composed of unique, energetic characters; the storytelling among actors is alive. The language lends itself to this as it comes so easily to the tongue. And while not specified in the script, this team of players represents the diversity of 2017; transcending stereotype and giving roles with personality to actors of color. This is important. Thank you, Writers Theatre.
However, while the dialogue roars, the story fizzles. I left with the questions, “Why this story now? What is the urgency of THE SCENE?” We have this incredibly talented, diverse cast and fascinating characters, but the plot is another story about a struggling, middle-aged white guy! A self-destructive, struggling, middle-aged white guy! Charlie oscillates through his reality and the world of the play, trading in authentic relationships for shiny, new ones.
THE SCENE’s dramaturgical material elaborates on the glass ceiling, particularly in the entertainment world. The set is also vaguely symbolic of this idea. But, Stella’s resolution is adopting a child with a new man. While Clea’s conclusion is with a new job, it’s explicit in that she slept her way there. A career-oriented woman folding at the bad decisions of a man and another woman using her body in a determined effort to advance. What does this have to do with the Glass Ceiling? And Clea, while painted as vapid, had moments of insight, I don’t understand her purpose. Is she a Millennial stereotype? Or created in hopes that people will give Millennials a chance despite their dissimilar vernacular and shifting values?
An overarching idea present is the commitment to and idolization of celebrity. Charlie repeatedly refers to his ache to be “with the gods.” The people who have sushi/hot tub parties and not a care in the world. This is who he used to be. This is readily paralleled with our contemporary worship and continual voyeurism of celebrity life via social media. We, too, have a deep-seated yearning to be on “The Scene,” with the “in crowd.” We, too, fantasize about that lifestyle.
This is the beauty of the “scene” idea; a “scene” as a space for incidents of reality and fiction. Clea is actually chasing that life and testing her thresholds of personal sacrifice. What is she willing to manipulate and destroy to be on “The Scene”? What is the price of ambition in the pursuit of an idea? And how is emotion involved in ambition? Charlie becomes a conflagration in the pursuit of “feeling” something. Clea’s detachment, but a zest for being “alive” sparks Charlie’s madness and eventual burnout. The love in this show is love for the self and believing in oneself and believing in one’s dreams, by any means necessary. There is healing love, as well, shared after the destruction destroys and life continues.
The production handles its text with finesse. THE SCENE’s aesthetic is contemporary, signaling its modern ideologies and language. It presents worthy intentions and captivating characters, but left me wanting more.
THE SCENE runs through April 2nd. For more information visit writerstheatre.org.