Off Its Meds 

What the Night Is For overreaches.

Two adulterous lovers, separated for a decade, spend a fateful evening discovering that the spark that first flew across a book club meeting still burns in both hearts. Sounds like it could be hot and spicy, right? Or possibly tender and life-affirming. Or some combination thereof. But in playwright Michael Weller and director Ray Reinhardt's hands, Playhouse West's production of What the Night Is For is an extended muddle that often produces the same feeling one gets watching a couple argue in a mall.

The beginning is promising. Lindy and Adam pick at room-service food and steal glances at each other over a table in her hotel room. She is in town for a conference, he for a client meeting. They talk about old times and their new families and dance around the question that clearly haunts them both: Should we have let each other go? Her nervousness and the intense way he watches her make sense; the tension is palpable. Marvin Greene smolders as Adam; he captures a man caught in a "perfectly functional" but loveless marriage beautifully. But Lois Grandi is not as convincing, perhaps because Weller has given Lindy a raft of challenges that require more subtlety than Grandi brings to the role. Her second-act meltdown is painful to watch, and the second act isn't as strong as the first to begin with, which makes the play feel even longer than the seemingly endless night the two spend together.

Weller is American, but his play debuted in England. He claims that is because Americans don't get it, but I don't think that's the problem; even with über-hottie Gillian "Agent Scully" Anderson playing Lindy in the London premiere, people were squirming in their seats. The problem is that Weller has substituted exposition for emotion. There are some good ideas here, some delicate things about relationship and commitment that clearly resonated with the audience the night I went, but they're clouded by psychobabble and pointless stories. For example, Lindy is waiting for a phone call from some street kid who looks like nothing so much as a weak device to explain why she answers the phone when it could be her husband. Adam doesn't fare much better with long tales of his ice-maiden wife and his business partner's father's mistress.

Meanwhile, to put it bluntly, there isn't enough sex. What there is apparently takes place between acts while the audience is out in the lobby eating biscotti and checking in with the sitter; the second act begins with Lindy sliding coyly out of bed wrapped in the sheet so she can put on her nightgown in the bathroom. The dialogue explaining that an older woman needs to be modest rings totally false. The whole thing feels like Weller was afraid nobody would be able to cast his play if he gave a character a single Full Monty moment -- or a chance to just sit quietly and not be talking endlessly about what happened ten years or ten minutes ago, even if the dialogue is peppered with witty one-liners such as "I wasn't sleeping, I was checking my eyelids for holes," and "Adultery is one thing, but I draw the line at exercise."

Weller seems determined to make clunky things work, and the devices he chooses strain the imagination, even if one suspects they're based on things that he saw or heard about. Both marriages don't need to be so completely wretched for us to feel sympathetic to the lovers' plight. The heroine doesn't need to form a big-sister relationship with an absent street kid to show that she has a sympathetic side to counterbalance her aggressive energy. The heroine, for that matter, doesn't need to go off her meds so we see that there's yet another potential roadblock in the path of True Love. Weller has the verbal fencing part down, but it's not the sort of argument one can take even a voyeuristic pleasure in witnessing.


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