by Matt Smith
“Let’s face it. We lead complicated lives.
With this line, spoken early in the first scene of Victor L. Cahn’s new comedy, Romantic Trapezoid, girlfriend Melissa (Elizabeth Inghram) diffuses a rapidly escalating argument with boyfriend Dave (Zack Calhoon). She says it, of course, to justify the two spending time apart from each other, she, in particular, with a handful of other men, as she climbs the corporate ladder at work. Hearing it, however, seems a little off-putting and confusing, as the play allows the audience no actual way in to their “complicated lives” apart from what we hear in dialogue. That is, the action doesn’t delve into the daily goings-on in their life outside the apartment, but rather addresses it solely in conversation. So, while we’ll take Mel at her word here, can we really tell? Isn’t there something, perhaps quite obvious and simple, that could be just slightly bit shifted so as to give us that insight into their lives outside of home?
Such is the question with which you’ll be grappling throughout the entirety of this convoluted divulgence of an age-old relationship dilemma. In response to the aforementioned issue, Melissa insists it’s just business and that he’s got nothing to worry about… but when a special friend of Dave’s waltzes into the house with a declaration of her own, Melissa is left questioning Dave’s trust in her, the floodgates now opened in regards to how seriously he perceives their relationship to be.
No doubt an interesting formula steeped in plenty of dramatic potential, but unfortunately, it never fully catches fire, handicapped by a severe absence of urgency in addressing the matter. Plagued by a series of unnecessarily long silences between each line, the conversation between Melissa and Dave is quite dull, chock-full of clichés, and never really reaches a satisfying climax. The resolution, for one, seems to be too easily accessible for the long-winded journey they took to get there.
Fortunately, in all this mangled chaos, the production manages to salvage itself (albeit barely) with the beyond brilliant casting of Joy Donze. She plays fiesty Beth, Dave’s student and “special guest,” who bursts onto the scene in the second act. In terms of the plotline itself, her arrival is cause to shake things up with a shocking announcement. But her top-notch performance is so contrastingly effervescent and full of life, she actually invigorates the production as a whole, injecting it with the much-needed jolt of energy it so desperately lacks in the other two scenes. Her effervescent personality so naturally envelops the character that you even forget you’re watching a scene written by an aging sexagenarian.
For what it’s worth, the creatives deserve props for their work with Beth too, redeeming themselves from their fizzled efforts with Melissa and Dave. Through inventive staging and character choices, director Albert Bonilla and crew offer a top-notch visual display of the stark contrast between these two distinctly different women. For example, the color of Melissa’s clothes is plain, predictable, and ordinary, while Beth’s pop with a bright pink, almost as radiant and effervescent as she is. Melissa changes clothes behind a closed closet door, and Beth has no problem leaving the door open, flaunting her scantily clad body through the apartment.
We’ll even give Cahn his much-earned credit here. By having Beth actually in the room, face-to-face in a heated standoff with the competition — exemplified by that aforementioned blocking, tensions high, palpable and boiling over — the stakes are undeniably raised tenfold. Which is why it’s that much more of a letdown when we’re pulled back into the drab lives of Mel and Dave, and reach a conclusion that was lingering all along… while Beth is nowhere to be seen.
Triangle, trapezoid, or whatever shape you call it, there’s no question its success lies squarely with one person alone. “Funny,” Dave remarks, once things eventually settle down. “Talking about Beth seems to have brought us together. Maybe I should have mentioned her earlier.” Funny… maybe you should’ve. Perhaps then, the resulting shape wouldn’t be as lopsided as it is.
Romantic Trapezoid, by Victor L. Cahn, played the Lion Theatre at Theatre Row (410 W. 42nd Street) ran thru November 25th – 80 minutes.