The nights are cold in Minnesota, where this raw tale of domestic infidelity is set, but the emotions run hot and heavy in Craig Wright’s candid treatment of two cheating spouses and the impact of their affair on the marriages they trash for a second chance at love. While one extremely graphic, near-nude scene of hurtful copulation might shock the sensibilities of auds who think it far more sensible to work out separation agreements around a table, all scenes of passion and discord are honestly arrived at in Carolyn Cantor’s intense, well-focused production for the aptly named Edge Theater Company.
Slow, windy start and curious miscasting of a key role keep the drama at bay while Wright (a writer on “Six Feet Under”) establishes that Cathy (Pamela J. Gray) is the perfect wife and mother while her spouse, David (Jason Butler Harner) is the perfect cad for deceiving her with Beth (Arija Bareikis), who is married to David’s best friend, Brad (Paul Sparks).
By imaginatively telegraphing the intimate atmosphere in which these two marriages disintegrate, savvy design team provides the proper claustrophobic setting for Wright’s detailed examination of the psychological dynamic of adultery. Working on a thrust stage that shoves audience’s nose in the sordid events, David Korins has built high, wood-planked walls that feel like a cage. The only furniture is a big bed that overwhelms the stage (effectively dismissing all other aspects of the characters’ lives by thrusting them out of sight) and four side chairs that force the adulterers and their victims to stay put and watch each other’s moves. Eric Shim’s hypnotic music (heavy on lachrymose cellos) and the body-temperature hues of Ben Stanton’s lighting enhance the no-exit effect.
One might wish that the language of Wright’s flat mid-western idiom were not quite so devoid of lyricism. But even when expressing themselves in banalities, the passion-driven characters never flinch from revealing their conflicted emotions. And an earnest cast has put a lot of thought and respectable technique into exposing their moral limitations and exploring the selfish impulses underlying their romantic dreams.
When confronted with David’s decision to dump her and their three children for another woman, Gray’s devastated, but resourceful Cathy summons up the rage and wit to stage a virtual rape of her husband. The graphic scene would not be nearly so shocking had Gray not managed to finish off her act of humiliation by revealing the anguish that motivated it. Her cri de coeur – “Do I really need to waste my dignity on you?” – drew a collective gasp from one utterly hooked preview aud.
Bareikis goes through more subtle character changes as Beth, an idealistic and rather fragile woman who gathers strength as she comes to recognize the immaturity of her lover’s yearning to leave his wife and start a new life with her. Without losing her expression of serene sweetness, Bareikis registers Beth’s painful realization of the full consequences of the choice she has made.
For his part, Sparks is careful to preserve the core of sensitivity that Wright has grudgingly allowed the vulgar jock husband whom Beth walks out on. (“Everybody knows I’m a prick,” Brad cheerfully acknowledges. “It’s who I am.”) The guy is crude, but not a brute, and while he hasn’t a clue how to please his dissatisfied wife, Sparks makes it clear that he does love and cherish her.
The central figure in this messy business, however, is David, a day-dreaming pharmacist whose vague dissatisfaction with his seemingly solid 15-year-old marriage is never satisfactorily explained. Harner is nothing if not committed to the role. He certainly captures the character’s Emma Bovary-like yearning for the thrills of an illicit romance, if not the fuzzy notion of happiness which is awkwardly symbolized by an imaginary child. But the thesp’s youthful appearance and boyish manner deny the character the sense of last-chance desperation that would come naturally to some mid-lifer in his itchy 40s. And while his desire for Beth is palpable, it smacks less of love than of narcissistic groping for a pretty toy.
The near-universality of the play’s themes are sure to engage peer-group auds. But re-writes and housekeeping chores are in order if transfer-talk should materialize.