Review: ‘Fiction’

This world-premiere play by Steven Dietz puts a provocative spin on the eternal love triangle, avoiding the obvious cliches too often encountered. Dietz's slick narrative avoids the kind of exposition that can slow down the action, and the dialogue is rich and flavorful.

This world-premiere play by Steven Dietz puts a provocative spin on the eternal love triangle, avoiding the obvious cliches too often encountered. Dietz’s slick narrative avoids the kind of exposition that can slow down the action, and the dialogue is rich and flavorful.

Michael (Robert Cuccioli) and Linda (Laila Robins) are a happily married and successful writing team. When she is diagnosed with a brain tumor and given just a few weeks to live, they decide to share with each other the intimate revelations in their personal diaries. In a fleeting series of flashbacks, the indiscretion of a husband is revealed.

The play begins with the first meeting between Michael and Linda in a Paris cafe. They get in a feisty argument over the merits of John Lennon and Janis Joplin. “Bluster and hyperbole” dominate their first meeting, yet Michael returns to his hotel to jot down the words “achingly vibrant” in his journal.

So begins a relationship that will take them through 16 years of marriage. When Linda is facing death and asks to read Michael’s diaries, she learns of his monthlong affair with an intern at a writer’s colony. Reflecting on the affair, Michael ponders and reflects on his first meeting with Abby (Marianne Hagen). Perhaps it was then, actually, that he jotted down those words. Fact and fiction begin to blur.

Performances are first-rate. There is real chemistry between Robins and Cuccioli, who have often appeared in tandem on Jersey stages. Hagen is enormously appealing in a direct, honest perf as the other woman.

The play is essentially a 90-minute affair stretched out with a needless intermission that breaks the tempo. David Warren’s pointed direction provides the viewer with a sense of eavesdropping intimacy. Sliding panels dominate James Youmans’ clean and purposeful spare set, with the action softly illuminated by Donald Holder’s lighting design.

“Fiction” decidedly has a future, perhaps Off Broadway, and it’s tempting to fantasize the casting for a film.

Fiction

McCarter Theater Center; 1,075 capacity; $54 top

Production

A McCarter Theater Center presentation of a play in two acts by Steven Dietz. Directed by David Warren.

Creative

Set, James M. Youmans; costumes, David Woolard; lighting, Donald Holder; music and sound, John Gromada; stage manager, Alison Cote. Artistic director, Emily Mann. Opened March 28, 2003. Reviewed March 30. Running time: 1 HOUR, 55 MIN.

Cast

Michael - Robert Cuccioli Abby - Marianne Hagen Linda - Laila Robins
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