The small Matrix Theater Co. is one of L.A.’s most reliable purveyors of quality revivals, so it’s disappointing to find the troupe’s first world premiere production a washout. Larry Atlas’ “Yield of the Long Bond,” like its title, is a play heavy with portent and pretense, and ultimately light on significance. Its revelation: Hideously rich Manhattan investment kingpins and lawyers aren’t really as soulless, venal and inhuman as they appear to be; they, too, can be touched by the grace of love. Well, no doubt, but that doesn’t make you want to spend two long, windy hours with them.
The investor is Paul Rosario (Gregory Itzin), a slick, dead-eyed and rapacious type who thrives on making quick and shady multimillion-dollar deals. Unhappily, he’s our narrator, too, so we get to hear a lot of showy talk about his big business.
But transactions of a more personal and philosophical nature are the play’s real subject: Paul, who fairly oozes cynicism, is involved in an affair with expensive-suit-wearing attorney Ellen Kastner (Julia Campbell). Is it lust and the kinky confluence of money, sex and power that keeps them together, or is there a human heart beating somewhere beneath Rosario’s grim tickertape grin?
Beneath her gray Jil Sander (or was it Armani?) and her own layers of yuppie shellac, Ellen is more clearly a yearning, lonely soul, and when she suggests (implausibly) that Paul make some charitable contributions to get the SEC off his tail, she becomes involved with an Episcopal priest who is hoping to spread the gospel through a city good works program. He’s an earnest type, tweed-wearing and soft of voice. Can he bring some meaning into these benighted lives? Or is he too good to be true?
Atlas is not an untalented writer, but he’s too besotted with the sound of his own phraseology to let his characters breathe. There is some nice wit in his dialogue for the wicked Paul, as when he recalls the days of his lonely childhood: “Pop’s in Argentina; mom’s insufferable.” But all the characters are too glibly articulate to be human.
And with its endless biblical allusions, the talk is fraught with significance that is ultimately specious. (Highfalutin dialogue sample: “Your cruelty was a love to which you could not give voice.” Hmmm.) The play’s aspirations to profundity begin to seem particularly painted-on in the second act, when it turns into a conventional and rather lurid murder mystery, replete with a startlingly unnecessary nude scene that is a humiliation to its actress.
Most surprisingly, the Matrix’s usually first-rate ensemble acting isn’t in evidence here either. Campbell is stiff and a little awkward as Ellen, while the cliched warmth of Byron Jennings’ performance as the priest isn’t excused by his plot function. Itzin gives the star performance as the nasty investor, but his cool, subtly inflected sarcasm gets tiresome long before the play’s end. (The roles are double-cast, so perhaps other permutations will be more fruitful.)
Andrew J. Robinson’s directorial hand is unsteadier than usual, his previous Matrix productions have been terrific, but he may have been caught up, as indeed is everyone here, in attempting to mine the play’s text for returns it doesn’t yield.