There Are No More Big Secrets,” by Heidi Schreck, isn’t the play it threatens to be — until it turns around and becomes exactly that kind of play. When two married schoolteachers offer refuge to an old friend and his Russian wife, there’s reason to think we’re in for another long, dull evening of marital stress and romantic recriminations. But these characters prove to be smart and thoughtful, and the adult issues that concern them have political gravity — until they regress in the second act and settle in for another long, dull evening of marital stress and romantic recriminations.
As reunions go, the one between old college friends Maxine (Christina Kirk), Charles (Gibson Frazier) and Gabe (Adam Rothenberg) seems convivial enough — although Maxine and Charles do seem to be knocking back a lot of vodka shots for a couple of middle-aged, married high-school teachers who have moved into the old house in upstate New York (a work of art in John McDermott’s meticulous Arts & Crafts set design) where Maxine’s mother lies dying in the next room.
That can be explained, though, by the fact that Gabe, an expat who has been living and doing (possibly shady) business in Russia for the past 15 years, reminds them of their college days, when they shared a “deep and sincere Russophilia.” The mercurial Gabe, a deeply attractive dog in Rothenberg’s perf, is now more Russian than his Russian-born wife, Nina, whose smoldering intelligence (or is that contempt?) blazes from Dagmara Dominczyk’s eyes.
Although mild-mannered Charles is politely appalled (in Frazier’s well-calibrated perf) by Gabe’s so-very-Russian romantic swagger, Maxine goes into a swoon. Kirk (“Well,” “Clybourne Park”) shrewdly translates Maxine’s infatuation for her former boyfriend into a highly personalized physical language. Arms flying, knees buckling, she collapses into the girlish shrieks and giggles of a lovesick adolescent.
The character dynamics are truthful but tricky to stage, and helmer Kip Fagan (Schreck’s husband) handles them with welcome humor. Like the ominous sound (Daniel Kluger) and lighting (Matt Frey) effects that hint of something waiting out there in the woods, these giddy scenes have their dark side.
Before things get totally out of hand, Schreck sobers everyone up with a dose of reality. Nina, who is Russian to the core, has no patience with her husband’s adopted affectations. As a high-profile journalist who has been filing incendiary stories on the Chechen war, she has fled Russia to seek political asylum, while Gabe is having serious problems with the Russian oligarchs he does business with. No supplicant she, Nina assumes a stance of Russian imperiousness to make tough demands of Maxine and Charles.
But just as Schreck raises our expectations by presenting us with this substantial political issue, she pulls back. In the second act, we are back where we started — with additional complications that don’t bear mention. Not because they give away the plot, but because they’re too embarrassing for words.