The theater season has scarcely begun, but it can be confidently predicted that the next nine months will bring no sorrier spectacle than “High Infidelity,” a hopeless, hapless comedy that somehow has stumbled onto the stage of the Promenade Theater, where it will quickly expire.
The production’s raison d’etre is presumably the odd and faintly campy star pairing of John Davidson and Morgan Fairchild, who play a philandering presidential candidate (yawn) and his estranged wife. Both are known mostly for glossy TV work, and the faint allure of seeing how their telegenic charms translate to the stage supplies what little entertainment value “High Infidelity” provides.
Fairchild is a longtime tele-trouper who may hold the world record for stints on primetime soaps. She was the smoldering Jenna Wade on “Dallas” and the smoldering Jordan Roberts on “Falcon Crest.” She smoldered anew as Constance Weldon Carlyle on the short-lived “Flamingo Road” and smoldered to beat the band as wicked modeling maven Racine in the even shorter-lived “Paper Dolls.” More recently, she’s shown a game, witty attitude toward her femme-fatale persona in guest spots in various sitcoms and film comedies.
At 50, she certainly looks terrific. The porcelain skin is a marvel — rendering nonsensical a line in the play about her character’s facial wrinkles. In the flesh, I can now attest, Morgan Fairchild looks like a meticulously airbrushed magazine cover. And watching how she modulates the arresting twinkle in her blue eyes is certainly entertaining. Fairchild hasn’t been on a New York stage since 1981, however, and her technique is a bit rusty, to put it charitably (even if it’s hardly fair to judge her in this unfortunate vehicle).
Watching how Davidson calibrates the matching twinkle in his eyes is also entertaining. Mildly fascinating, too, is the unctuous grin he flashes from his white teeth. Davidson even earns a few honest chuckles in his role as the smarmy, ever on-the-make Sen. Charles Gordon, who arrives with wife and secret service agent at the marriage therapy clinic of Dr. Edward Finger (Neil Maffin) and his assistant Jane McAlpin (Jennifer Roszell). The businesslike manner in which Davidson asks the buxom Jane for a quick fondle is worth a good laugh.
But playwright John Dooley’s writing is thoroughly inept and often inane, and these qualities are only enhanced by Luke Yankee’s clunky direction. The play consists of the senator and his wife sniping and squabbling witlessly while the doctor suggests lame and illogical therapeutic exercises. Meanwhile, Jane, looking eerily like an ambulatory True-Tan Barbie, repeatedly offers to expose her breasts to the senator. (I couldn’t tell you why.)
The best defense is to tune out the words entirely and fixate on the twinkling eyes and telegenic grins. Sometimes it’s a pity that live theater doesn’t come with a mute button.