By Tom Holehan
The term "evildoers" sounds almost biblical, doesn't it? But program notes for David Adjmi's new play of the same title lists a reference for the term as recent as 2001 when President Bush was referring to the 9/11 terrorists ("We will rid the world of evildoers."). "The Evildoers", currently on stage at the Yale Repertory Theatre, doesn't always work and certainly isn't for everyone (especially given the tepid audience response I witnessed at a recent Friday night performance), but it is an adventurous and provocative new work not easily ignored. I haven't always been kept this anxious during a production at Yale. I welcome the stress.
As "The Evildoers" begins it may conjure up memories of Edward Albee's groundbreaking "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" as it depicts two unhappily married couples getting sloshed and letting the vitriol fly. Jerry and Carol are celebrating their eighth anniversary with friends Martin and Judy at a posh Manhattan restaurant when Martin suddenly stands and unburdens himself with long repressed rage at his wife and friends. We soon discover that Martin has been keeping a secret and his revelation
unleashes a string of events that mirrors the current world climate.
At least I think it does. To be honest, I'm not completely sure if I always "got" all "The Evildoers" had to say. But the play did keep me consistently interested and thinking long after final curtain. Mr. Adjmi seems to be paralleling the actions of everyday people committing crimes of passion with the broader spectrum of global terrorism. Our petty differences, fragile egos and tentative holds on relationships are all part of the bigger picture. What starts as a kind of heightened theatrical reality in the play's first act descends into magical realism and a jaw-dropping finale in act two. Indeed, the stunning final tableau - staged effectively by director Rebecca Bayla Taichman - is not easy to forget.
The four brave actors assembled here are a strong quartet with Joanna Day's abrasively hilarious Carol an obvious stand-out. Samantha Soule, Stephen Barker Turner and Matt McGrath are all very solid, too, though Mr. McGrath could work on his projection. The striking scenic design by Riccardo Hernandez includes a modern steel and glass penthouse apartment appointed with expensive furniture and blood-red carpets. Vivid lighting by Stephen Strawbridge and an ominous sound design by Bray Poor contribute brilliantly to the play's overall tone. Adult language, frontal nudity and a shocking act of violence late in the play are also part of the proceedings at Yale. "The Evildoers" is not for the Neil Simon crowd or the faint of heart but playwright Adjmi is clearly a writer worth watching. "The Evildoers" continues at Yale Rep through February 9, 2008. For further information and ticket reservations call the theatre box office at 203.432.1234 or online: www.yalerep.org.
End Note: The recent Academy Award nominations had few surprises but this viewer is happy the voters saw fit to remember Tommy Lee Jones' beautiful work from "In the Valley of Elah" (especially since it was a picture that came and went very quickly) as well as Viggo Mortensen's brilliant performance as a Russian mobster in "Eastern Promises". They may not have a chance against probable winner Daniel Day-Lewis (for "There Will Be Blood"), but it's nice they were invited to the party.