Dale Griffiths Stamos attempts to parallel the troubled romantic entanglement of a university philosophy professor and her teaching assistant with their often-contentious academic debates. Neither agenda is adequately realized as a hard-working cast of five strives to instill veracity into Stamos’ stilted text and awkward scenic transitions. The thematic throughline is further undermined by helmer Alison Vail Fuller’s clumsy staging and sabotaged by Daniel L. Wheeler’s cramped, unwieldy set.
Played out over one fall semester at an unnamed university, the action follows the efforts of ultra-rational professor Elizabeth Drewer (Sharon Lawrence) to maintain her professional and emotional equilibrium after the breakup of her marriage. Invading her clearly defined existence is her new T.A., grad student Richard Amado (“Law & Order: SVU” regular Nicholas Gonzalez), an earthy, philosophical rebel who challenges Drewer, both in and out of the lecture hall.
Stamos utilizes short, alternating academic/personal scenes to contrast each protagonist’s teaching method and the evolution of their relationship. The lectures are under-realized and woefully undramatic, barely giving evidence of Drewer’s supposed strict adherence to the reason-based theories of Plato and Descartes and Amado’s advocacy for the more emotion-based philosophies of Rousseau. Helmer Fuller is unable to sustain any dramatic flow, as each scene appears to stand alone, failing to energize the subsequent action.
Lawrence and Gonzalez exude a believable rapport, but the supposed evolving personal and philosophical relationship between Drewer and Amado never ignites. The scripter simply does not provide enough information and substance to the relationship beyond the young man’s relentless pursuit and the professor’s growing sense that she is doing the wrong thing. The second act resolution to their romance is as arbitrary as the relationship itself. Mutual lust between a handsome, well-muscled 28-year-old male and a beautiful, hot-eyed 40-year-old woman is believable on its own account. Stamos’ philosophical musings are not required to give it veracity.
What do work are the colorful, character-rich portrayals of Carlease Burke and Joel Polis as Drewer’s academic colleagues, Barbara Biden and Philip Monohan, respectively. Polis’ Monohan is particularly endearing as the sadder but wiser academic who has suffered the consequences of dallying with a student. Peter Husmann delivers a brief but notable turn as Drewer’s former hubby, who has found happiness with someone much less demanding than his ex.
Wheeler’s multilevel obstacle course defeats the physical flow of the play. The characters spend more time manipulating themselves around set pieces than they do communicating with one another. The environment is mitigated by the evocative, mood-enhancing lights of Jeremy Pivnick.