It began with a suggestion of a suspicion that led to an accusation.
It began as a conversation about goodness that no one could keep from happening because everyone was a little drunk, and the one person with an agenda was never found out. It happened in a beautiful country house, between two completely incompatible couples, in relationship by even the flimsiest of circumstances. Too much heady banter about things so nebulous as goodness and more than a little too much wine was bound to lead to Poor Behavior.
It was bound to happen especially with this cast of familiar characters. Ian (Reg Rogers) is that guy. You know the guy, that superior, ostentatious Englishman who loves to argue, almost for argument’s sake. For a pseudo-super intellectual like Ian, it’s more than the satisfaction of being right. For people like Ian, it’s foreplay. When he dangles the bait, he is assured to get a bite from someone like Ella.
You know Ella (Johanna Day) too. She’s that girl: the super emotional charged one, the actual intellectual. A bit too pretty and way too moral for Ian’s taste, Ella is a girl who will always come to the defense of the poor unsuspecting concept as goodness. She gets engages in the argument because, despite the fact she is sparring with her guest, it’s just the right thing to do.
Their forgotten spouses, Peter and Maureen, cease to try and separate them. They turn in for the evening, leaving the verbal war to exact its pound of flesh and declare the ultimate winner.
You know Ella’s husband, Peter. Peter (Christopher Evan Welch) is that really nice guy. The peacemaker. The good husband and the consummate host. Peter is nevertheless way too plain and average to have landed someone a bit too pretty and wonderful as Ella. Peter is a listener and a negotiator and the one always ready to make the best peace.
And everybody knows Maureen (Sharon Lawrence). She’s just nuts, everyone knows it. Yeah, Maureen is that girl, the one who’s always going through some kind of drama, sometimes self-inflicted, sometimes legitimate. She’s the goof who married that crazy English Ian in the first place. Although, which one of them actually got the rare end of the deal is debatable.
Morning comes, and the victory of the night long joust is less than clear. Maureen believes she knows who the loser is: her. Maureen wastes no time confronting Ian about sleeping with Ella. It’s a bit of a leap from vigorously debating the concept of goodness, but Maureen jumps to that conclusion with ease. And Ian does nothing to assuage the suspicion, so crazy weepy Maureen runs with it. Her hysteria taps into Peter’s deep rooted doubts about Ella's fidelity, thus infecting Ella credibility and sets everyone on emotional defense, which is exactly where Ian wants them.
If Larry David and David Mamet had a love child, it would be Poor Behavior. Smart, clever, rhythmic and fast. Did I mention smart? Poor Behavior feels very much like a sit-com that is actually about something. And yet, playwright Theresa Rebeck uses the same basic tropes of misdirection, misunderstanding and unspoken, unresolved conflict employed in virtually every Seinfeld or Friends episode. This incarnation of comedy techniques serves this production well and births an engaging and laugh out loud dramedy.
Poor Behavior’s talented quartet of actors play a wonderful two act game of verbal volleyball, taking place in the wonderful world of "he said, she said", bouncing from one character to the next, without any signs of any performer dropping the ball. Johanna Day, Sharon Lawrence, Reg Rogers and Christopher Evan Welch work as a finely tuned ensemble, delivering delightful and highly humor performances.
A strong nods should be given to the production team of this production. Often the textural elements of lighting and sound design point to themselves, taking you out of the illusion. David Van Tieghem (original music / sound design)) and Ben Stanton (lighting design) strike a wonderful balance of creating an authentic enviornment and accentuating the drama without intruding upon it.
Theresa Rebeck’s Poor Behavior runs now through October 16, 2011 @:
Mark Taper Forum
Downtown Los Angeles
135 N. Grand Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90012
For more information: 213.628.2772