CONNECTICUT CRITICS CIRCLE
By Bob and Karen Isaacs
Ultimately, in The Scene by Theresa Rebeck at Hartford Stage Company, you recognize that though the characters have some reality to them, generally what happens to them does not affect you emotionally and you walk out of the theater muttering, “So what?”
The most enchanting element in the play is the spectacular New York City skyline that is the backdrop for the piece; it’s all there from the Empire State Building to the Chrysler Building.
What you have is a 40-something out-of-work actor, Charlie, who has no focus in his life except for a devoted wife, Stella, and a loyal friend, Lewis, neither of whom seem to be bale to shake him out of his doldrums. Then into his life comes Clea, a simple-minded ingénue, a spouter of sociological clichés. Just off the bus from Ohio, she’s tremendously attractive and available with an insatiable appetite for sex and money. She’s also totally amoral.
Initially she attracts Lewis (played with a Dustin Hoffman like innocence by Liam Craig) but meeting Charlie in Lewis’s apartment shifts her attention form Lewis to him. Charlie, portrayed as a desperate man by Matthew Arkin, winds up in a hot session with her in his apartment when his wife comes home. Clea (every facet of her self-centered hedonistic life is captured by Christy McIntosh), is the least disturbed by the wife’s arrival; and her anger, turns Stella’s anger against herself pointing out that she and Charlie have something that is missing in his marital life. She leaves, pausing only to pickup her panties from the couch, and Charlie and Stella argue with Charlie following Clea out.
If Charlie was going downhill before his affair with Clea, he proceeds further and faster now having moved in with Clea. The problem is that Charlie has no money, he's been living on his wife's credit cards that his wife has now cut off, so Clea needs a fresh source of funding that she finds with a producer, a former friend of Charlie’s.
There is some satisfaction in the development of a not surprising relationship between Lewis and Stella, who is given a serious depiction by Henny Russell, but except for the fact that Stella is a hardworking woman who is supposed to be deeply hurt, the development of her character or for that matter Lewis’ is slender at best.
Unlike George Hurstwood in Theodore Dreiser’s novel “Sister Carrie” whose fall from grace, though melodramatic, proves truly touching, you don’t care about Charlie because his character is not developed enough to be meaningful.
The only person whom you really have a reaction toward is Clea, and unless you are equally amoral and hedonistic, you will find her shallow and despicable. In other times, she would have been captured as a succubus and thus purely evil. Even Lola in Damn Yankees who seduces Joe turns on her demonic tormentor. Clea, on the other hand – her name perhaps suggests the omnivorous sexual quality applied to Cleopatra – has no redeeming quality, partially because her mind and her attitude function on a libidinous and simplistic level. Plus, she sounds like a parody of a Valley girl.
All you can do is dislike her.
So what does that leave us when we have experienced this play?
The Scene is directed by Jeremy B. Cohen with a plethora scenery changing, perhaps too much, for such a simple piece.
The Scene is at the Hartford Stage Company, 50 Church St., Hartford, through May 4. For tickets and information call the box office at 860-527-5151 or on-line at hartfordstage.org.