CONNECTICUT CRITICS CIRCLE
'The Scene' Shines at Hartford Stage
By Geary Danihy
Let's see. A man, a woman and a snake. Where have I heard this story before?
I got it! It's Adam and Eve in Eden, or rather Charlie (Matthew Arkin) and Stella (Henny Russell) in
their trendy New York City apartment - where life is perfect - almost. And who is sinuously slithering
around their little love nest? Why, it's Clea (Christy McIntosh), offering truths, half-truths, or babbling
non-sequiturs that seem to make sense…at least for the sensuous moment. After all, logic flies out
the window when an orgasm is pending.
The Scene, the latest offering by Hartford Stage, is a trenchant and often hilarious exercise in
infidelity and narcissism, with just a pinch of pain thrown in for some of the males in the audience
who might be thinking as the play unfolds: Been there. Done that. Boy, I wish I hadn't.
We are talking about a male, an apparently over-the-hill actor in a multi-level mid-life crisis, a man
who still uses the word "integrity" but has lost sight of the word's definition. As Charlie, Arkin is
superb, an anguished soul who still hears his conscience mumbling, an actor who has not had a job
in lo these many months, a man whose wife is a booking agent for a daytime talk show who can "do
it" - which means she can make sense of the absurd: stars demanding massages; "talent" sulking
and not returning her calls; schedules hi-lighted; insanity sanitized. Book the no-carb pasta chef!
What the hell.
For Clea (who interviewed for a job with Stella and came away calling her a Nazi bitch with a
hi-lighter), life is a smorgasbord of opportunities as long as you're a card-carrying member of Amoral
Anonymous. McIntosh, leggy, blonde and beautiful, makes Clea the ultimate predator, a woman who
lives by her own convoluted rules and cares little for the carnage she leaves in her path. From her
first meeting with Charlie and his friend, Lewis (Liam Craig), on a hi-rise rooftop patio (backed by a
glittering Manhattan skyline designed by Kris Stone), she casts a perverse, mesmerizing glow that
enwraps both men. She is what they ache to have - the problem is, she is what they do not need.
She first exercises her wiles on Lewis when she visits him in his apartment. Craig is dead-on as the
sexually insecure, introverted thirty-something who doesn't quite know what to do with this femme
fatale off a bus from Ohio. However, he doesn't get much of an opportunity to find out, for Charlie
soon drops by fresh from a meeting with an erstwhile friend, Nick, who has a "go" for a TV pilot.
In one of his many shining moments, Arkin delivers an impassioned sermon on the evils of
Hollywood and the television industry (read Manhattan), the banality of their products and the moral
wasteland that is the home of the media's denizens. Clea, moved (or so she says) by what she
hears, quickly shifts her interest from Lewis to Charlie. This soon leads to one of the funniest scenes
in the play.
Tempting fate, Charlie invites Clea to his apartment for a tryst that covers the sofa, the floor, and a
chair and ottoman. Romping in this last location, the two are discovered by Stella. Basically
speechless, Charlie hangs his head in shame as the two women go at each other in a marvelous
set-piece that both Russell and McIntosh handle skillfully, McIntosh turning the tables and acting the
injured party (after all, Charlie and she were "doing something" when Stella interrupted them) and
Russell sliding from indignation to disbelief as this young "tramp" refuses to be cowed. Grabbing her
panties from beneath a sofa pillow, Clea walks to the door, turns and delivers the show's funniest,
most audacious line, a line that evoke both laughter and gasps.
On the heels of this encounter, Charlie leaves Stella for Clea, which begins his rather rapid slide
down into the Slough of Despond. Eventually dumped by Clea (who filets him with her words before
sending him packing), he essentially becomes homeless as Stella turns to Lewis for comfort.
The four finally meet once again on the rooftop where it all began. Clea, ever the bitch, has become
Nick's personal assistant; Lewis and Stella are traveling to China to adopt a child, and Charlie is left
to stare at the glittering skyline and admit that Clea was right all along, it is surreal.
There's nary a false moment in The Scene, which is crisply and intelligently directed by Jeremy B.
Cohen, Hartford Stage's associate artistic director. From initial meeting to denouement, Cohen has
the play moving like an express, hurtling Charlie towards his destruction. Cohen is assisted in this
by Stone's sets, which include Charlie's and Lewis's apartments that slide forward from stage left and
right, and Robert Wierzel's lighting design, which often pins a character in a shaft of accusatory or
Then, of course there is the cast, and a marvelous cast it is. The four play so well off each other that
it takes little suspension of disbelief to embrace their characters and the situation they find
themselves in. All and all, The Scene is a wonderful piece of theater that delivers on just about every
The Scene runs through Sunday, May 4. For tickets or more information call 860-527-5151 or go to
www.hartfordstage.org. To read what other critics think about this play or to learn what's is playing at
theaters throughout Connecticut, go to www.ctcritics.org.