Relaying news that his very depressed girlfriend has attempted suicide with an overdose of Prozac, a character in Patrick Breen’s uneven “Marking” quips, “death by irony.” The remark, too hip by half, might well be applied to the play , a promising first effort undone by the author’s repeated retreats into the wry.
Breen, best known to Off Broadway audiences as an actor, attempts, in penning his first full-length play, to chart the effect of an infidelity on a group of friends and lovers. Despite a serious miscalculation on the author’s part — the introduction of a wild-card character who steers the course of events when those events should be steering themselves — “Marking” occasionally lets its attitude relax enough to reveal the heartfelt play that Breen clearly has in his grasp.
Breen also has a good feel for the trendy Soho milieu in which his characters move. As the play opens, we meet Dag (Brian F. O’Byrne), a rather amoral commercials director not above trading on his good looks and casting ability; his live-in girlfriend, Halley (Amy Ryan), a no-nonsense type nonetheless wounded by Dag’s infidelities; and Peter (Peter Dinklage), an actor and Dag’s best friend. Missing but mentioned is Rebecca (Francie Swift), Peter’s girlfriend and the would-be suicide. Rebecca interrupts the three friends’ dinner party with a telephoned confession that she and Dag recently slept together.
The confession sets off a series of developments that should have the feel of the inevitable. The betrayed Halley moves into Rebecca’s vacant apartment, where she meets another of Rebecca’s illicit paramours, Andre (Seth Gilliam), whose wife, a danger-obsessed flight attendant, meets and befriends (against all dramatic logic) the lovelorn Peter at an airport.
Also tossed in are a plane crash, several suicide attempts and an evil bowling alley waitress (Sarah Knowlton) who shares a night of rough sex with Dag but has eyes for Peter. (Only passing mention is made of the fact that the character — as well as the actor portraying him — is a dwarf, one of Breen’s better impulses.)
In its second act, “Marking” spins wildly off course as the body count rises in what is a very self-conscious attempt at sardonic, dark humor. In a false-ringing coda that shows the happy ending that might have been (if only the initial infidelity had been avoided), the playwright attempts to demonstrate how outcomes can be altered by a single moment.
Yet nothing in “Marking” has the feel of the inexorable — these characters’ fates are determined not by a regrettable transgression, but by a bloodthirsty waitress introduced by a playwright smart enough to have resisted the character’s surface appeal.