Whether it was nerve or foolhardiness that led actor Saul Rubinek (“Warehouse 13”) to choose the title “Terrible Advice,” the worst advice he was given about his debut stage comedy was that it was ready for production. A flaccid, sitcom-ish relationship tangle of messed-up middle-age, it wants to be David Mamet’s “Sexual Perversity in Chicago” but feels like undercooked Neil Simon with added swearing. And fewer laughs.
Andy Nyman is Stanley, a rudderless nebbish who for reasons never made clear has spent 25 years seeking relationship advice from his former college jock pal Jake (Scott Bakula), a self-admiring man who, by his own admission, doesn’t have “a moral bone in my body” and whose “dick recedes” at the prospect of “smiling sex,” i.e. pretty much anything approaching a mature relationship. Unbeknownst to Stanley, Jake has had a secret fling with Stanley’s girlfriend Delila (Sharon Horgan, trying in vain to add depth to an underwritten role).
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Delila is, natch, best friends with Jake’s partner Hedda (Caroline Quentin) so there’s comedy and even farce to be milked from the lies, cover-ups and exposures. That, at least is the theory.
The biggest technical problem is that Rubinek’s TV-style dialogue carries no dramatic weight. Everyone says exactly what they think, which leads to two hours and twenty minutes without subtext. They all talk to each other about complicated past relationships and current fears, all rattled out for intended comic effect, but everything has equal weight. As a result there’s almost no tension.
To make matters worse, Frank Oz’s lame production has no pace. David Farley’s atmosphere-free, drably lit sets are so clunky that any energy the hapless actors create plummets during the painfully awkward transitions.
A stronger writer could have created fun exposing unreconstructed male behaviour. There are initial laughs in Jake’s amusingly appalling sexism, and Rubinek’s downbeat ending is clearly meant to indicate that that the play is something of a rake’s progress. But for that to work we need to feel sympathy for the anti-hero. And with the women’s roles so undernourished, it grows wearingly sour watching a writer having his cake and eating it too.
Despite the cast’s game effort and timing, the characters are too thinly dramatized to be of abiding interest — much like the play.