Boundaries Befuddled: "The Evildoers" at Yale Rep
By Tom Nissley
Friendship, friendship, what a perfect blend-ship.
When other friendships have been forgot,
ours will still be hot.
The world premiere of David Adjmi's "The Evildoers," at Yale Rep through February 9, will open your eyes to a new level of depth perception in the study of human relationships. And you'll keep them open (maybe joined by a mouth) right to the final moment of the play. It's an extremely creative vehicle for four actors and an audience - a "mature audience" says the publicity, and I suppose that's a very fair warning.
During the course of two hours we are introduced to some painful awareness about how marriage works or doesn't, how friendship can be violated, how alcohol gets in the way of friendship, how self discovery can go amiss, and in a particularly interesting way, how the discernment of religious themes like good and evil and suffering and redemption can get very badly mixed up inside the human psyche.
Carol and Jerry have been married eight years; a festive supper to celebrate includes prep school chum Martin and his wife Judy. It has been going on long enough to have Jerry quite shambled with speech and obnoxious timing, rambling about 'what 's a fundamentalist' while he fills and refills his wineglass. Carol is proudly showing how they have reworked her solitaire diamond engagement ring with a circlet of garnets. Judy, magnificently insecure, laughs bizarrely and simpers, and Martin, transfixed by forces not yet revealed attacks the idea of revising something as significant as a diamond ring given to seal a covenant like marriage. Speaking of marriage, Martin also turns on Judy, denouncing theirs, and stalks out. And then we are off to the races!
Adjni's writing, filled with exquisite metaphor, in some ways reminds me of Edward Albee. I found a connection immediately in the next scene when Martin has moved into Jerry and Carol's home (a lavish penthouse near the East River - wow, what an amazing set by Riccardo Hernandez!), and has no where else to go. Carol is exercising her acerbic wit with aplomb, Jerry's still downing booze, while sliding over the newly waxed floors, meanwhile his pajama buttons pop off (and will again). We never learn who reattaches them but it appears not to be Carol. Martin, in a frenzy of finding his authentic inner man took a long train ride and met another man, an architect with whom he had a tryst. Looking at marriage from a new perspective he laments that it's no longer open to him. "Go to Massachusetts," snaps Carol. She has, after much trying, managed to become pregnant. A few scenes later, a miscarriage snaps that dream away. Although neither wants to admit it, the pain for the would-be parents is violent. Adjni fills the dialogue with references to the shell of how things should be - how we'd like them to be - versus how they really are. Jerry uses Russian dolls to describe how to get down to the inner self, and Martin and Jerry together misquote and tear into Biblical references with abandon. Somehow out of the alcohol-influenced ramblings comes an understanding that unless one's suffering is sufficient, there's nopoint to the existential journey.
There are many more symbols - a torrential rain storm that resembles the river Styx - scenes from the afterlife that morph into the organizing principle. Throughout the performance and long after I was reminded of how life expands, the bonds with best friends, bad moments in a good marriage - or vice versa, the fear of self discovery, the need to be aware of present realities. It would be unfair to describe the play more fully, and it would be decidedly unfair not to urge you - if you in your inmost self feel "mature," to go to experience this great theatre piece.
A word of appreciation for the actors: Johanna Day, Matt McGrath, Samantha Soule, and Stephen Barker Turner. Their teamwork is impeccable. And for the best line of the evening: McGrath (Martin) to Day (Carol): "I thought we had something between us." "We did," she retorts. "Walls, and I want them back!"
"Good fences make good neighbors," said Robert Frost. Adjani's play is about the boundaries that cannot be ignored in close relationships and the paradox of such an observation. Rebecca Bayla Taichman's direction and the wonderful ensemble on stage are worth a grand award.