The Geffen Playhouse always presents intriguing plays with provocative subjects. This tradition continues with their newest American Premier of “The Gift” written by acclaimed Australian playwright, Joanna Murray-Smith. It’s a thought-provoking comedy revolving around two disparate couples who meet at an expensive island resort.
Ed and Sadie are a wealthy, traditional, middle-aged Los Angeles couple, who have been married, but childless, for 25 years. Martin and Chloe are a pair of younger artistic souls from New York who have been husband and wife for eight years, with a 4-year-old daughter back at home. Martin is an up-and-coming artist who is just starting to sell some of his work; Chloe’s writing job pays the bills for now. They would have never been able to afford this vacation, but actually won the trip to the resort.
The foursome meets one night while having drinks, and ends up spending the rest of their week on the island together. They get to know each other, share their secrets, and ultimately experience a tumultuous boat ride during a storm that eternally forges the bond between them. Despite their differences and the fact they live on opposite coasts, these former strangers will now be friends forever. So much so that Ed wants to give the young New York couple a “gift.” Anything they want! Another trip? A horse? Anything! Martin and Chloe say no.
A year later, we meet the two couples again when Martin and Chloe visit Ed and Sadie at their ritzy Los Angeles home. The young couple has decided they will accept Ed’s offer and they reveal what it is they would like as “The Gift.”
This is where the play goes into “morality” mode. Without giving away any spoilers, it’s something that grabs you and makes you think in all kinds of directions. It’s interesting… and it’s provocative. Unfortunately, the play doesn’t go in enough of the directions or delve deeply enough into the issue. There are many different facets that are raised about their request, but instead of mining it to the fullest, the piece seems to just scratch the tip of the iceberg… and then, just when you get into it, the play abruptly ends.
That doesn’t stop you from talking about it on the way home, though. You want to discuss it and explore the subject and the characters more deeply. Why? How? Would this, could this, really happen with these people, or with other couples you know? Perhaps that’s what was intended – for the piece to instigate discussion and probing by their audiences afterwards, instead of neatly tying things together.
The acting is excellent, which is no surprise, given the cast. In the role of middle-aged Ed, Chris Mulkey is riveting from start to finish. Kathy Bates as Sadie is a joy to watch. Jaime Ray Newman, who plays Chloe, is skilled and convincing, although her clothing seemed a bit strange – especially the dress she wore on the island – it didn’t seem like something anyone would wear in a tropical environment. Another fine performance was delivered by James Van Der Beek as Martin, the conceptual artist who becomes a New York hit. Again, Martin’s clothing didn’t seem to “say” artist.
Nonetheless, watching these four seasoned actors live onstage is exciting and fulfilling.
The set is simple, yet striking, with luscious lighting design that transforms every scene and sets the mood.
Directed by Maria Aitken, “The Gift” at the Geffen Playhouse is an evening worth “gifting” to yourself. In fact, grab some friends and enjoy the special events the theatre offers to ticket holders at Talkback Tuesdays, Girls Night Out, Lounge Fridays and Wine Down Sundays. “The Gift” runs until March 10, 2013.
January 29 - March 10, 2013
Gil Cates Theater at the
10886 Le Conte Ave
Los Angeles,CA 90024
The Gift: Credits
Written by Joanna Murray-Smith
Directed by Maria Aitken
Scenic Designer: Derek McLane
Costume Designer: Laura Bauer
Lighting Designer: Peter Kaczorowski
Original Music and Sound Design by: John Gromada
Media Designer: Howard Werner
Starring: Kathy Baker, Chris Mulkey,
Jaime Ray Newman, James Van Der Beek
Photos: Michael Lamont