The seriousness of the title of Francois Archambault’s “The Leisure Society” announces a play with attitude. But by the end of the 90-minute running time it’s still unclear quite what that attitude is. Harry Burton’s mostly crisply acted production is as chic and sleek as the vibraphone-toned classical music revamps pepping up the scene changes. But nothing can disguise the overall uncertainty of tone and intent.
Everything starts securely as satire with Peter (Ed Stoppard) and Mary (Melanie Gray) having bought a grand piano that neither of them play but which they simply must have one since they’ve decided to adopt a Chinese baby and, hey, all those children are musical geniuses, aren’t they? Yes, they already have a child of their own but why go through the pain and noise pick one up that’s past all that?
Neat and amusingly mean-spirited though this is, it’s really only set-up. Archambault is more interested in Peter and Mary’s relationship with Mark (John Schwab), an erstwhile friend they are about to dump, and his beautiful younger “fuck buddy” Paula (model Agyness Dehn making her stage debut). But when the second couple turn up for dinner, the high-drinking mode moves everything towards the threesome that Peter and Mary have often considered would spice up their dwindling sex life.
Much to Mark’s chagrin, it becomes clear that he’s not wanted in the fun but Peter’s advancing neuroticism leads to tables being turned.
If a Yasmina Reza-like study of bourgeois preoccupations was all that was intended, all would be, to a certain point, well – think “The God of Carnage” plus troilism. But Archambault’s handling of the increasingly hollowed-out Peter strongly indicates that he’s looking for audiences to sympathise with his plight. But to achieve that, audiences need to care about the characters. However, the absurd self-interest of them all stops us from caring.
Moment to moment it adds up, as in the discussion about Mark and Mary having either slapped or shaken each other’s babies. But this wannabe transgressive section is then forgotten, the moment has no overall resonance and the play merely moves on.
Stoppard struggles with his borrowed U.S. accent and works too hard on showing Peter’s pain. The other actors are all the more engaging for keeping their cool. Agyness Dehn makes Paula an alluring blank canvas and John Schwab has a wittily controlled swagger as amusingly smug hunk Mark. And Melanie Gray makes a considerable impression as Mary. Foolish and willful though her character is, Gray’s refusal to pass judgement upon her lend the character intriguing depth.
Bobby Theodore’s translation of this French-Canadian play provides some funny one-liners but overall it looks and feels stylish while lacking a coherent style of its own. It’s edgy, but only in the sense of being on the edge of something stronger.