By Ron Fassler
The choice of Maggie Bofill’s Devil of Choice to launch the Labyrinth Theater Company’s 25thseason is an odd one. This world premiere play about an adulterous triangle between a man, his wife and his mistress, is one we have seen many times before, and often better executed. I observed little that was new in its twists and turns and, if anything, it unfavorably brought to mind Harold Pinter’s Betrayal, which I first saw in its original 1980 Broadway production. I have rarely seen that play’s honest portrayal of betrayal topped, and Devil of Choice is no exception.
One of the reasons the writing struck me as odd, is due to a feeling of how untimely it seemed, what with the current #MeToo movement at its height. This is a play that does not seem to be interested in what constitutes female empowerment right now; to the contrary, it depicts its two women as particularly weak, both in thrall of a somewhat abusive man. Not that the character of Sal is a physical mauler, or makes either woman do anything against their will, but he is a master manipulator. He’s an unpleasant figure to spend an unbroken ninety minutes with, and (SPOILER ALERT) doesn’t really get his comeuppance in the end. I don’t understand why the playwright (a woman) isn’t harder on this character, unless she is making some point that eluded me.
A college professor in a small town, Sal (David Zayas) is shown in scenes throughout the play delivering lectures on Goethe’s Faust, the epic German play, written in two parts between 1772 and 1775. Like Faust, Sal is a teacher, forced to make choices whether to embrace (or ignore) the devil. Married sixteen years to a bit of a psychological wreck named Pepper (Elizabeth Canavan), Sal is hoping a job he has arranged for her at the college library will help. In the play’s second scene, Sal meets Delia (Florencia Lozano), a college administrator, who he practically forces into a friendship with Pepper, in order to make his unstable wife feel more secure in their new environment. Not unexpectedly, Sal and Delia become lovers, and try as they might, the actors don’t generate much heat. With the relationship boiling down to Delia as the needy one, and Sal as the exploitive one, it’s hard to care about either of their wants and desires. And the choice of Pepper being a head case stymies any effort by the playwright to drum up much empathy for the character. There is a fourth character, a violinist (Melisa McGregor), who also composed the show’s music, who serves as a means to transition its two dozen scenes. Though she doesn’t interact with anyone, she takes a deserved bow at the curtain call.
Performed on a nearly bare stage that functions as two different homes, a lecture hall, bedrooms and the open outdoors is doable, but there’s no imagination in Raul Abrego’s scenic design (done on what looks to be the most minimal budget possible). The direction by Shira-Lee Shalit, is at best unobtrusive and, at worst, lackluster. The performances did not start out strongly at the beginning, but all three actors grew on me as the evening progressed. David Zayas fits the bill as the ego-driven, bull in a china shop, and he is matched in his exchanges by Florencia Lozano’s Delia, who projects intelligence, even when her character is making all the wrong choices. As played by Elizabeth Canavan, Pepper is left hanging in the wind a good deal of the play; hemmed in by the playwright’s choice of making her a flake and not a substantial enough person to defend herself appropriately. By time she does, late in the play, it’s not a very believable transformation.
The bottom line: Devil of Choice is an uncomplicated play about a complicated three-way relationship.
Photos: David Zayas,Jr.
Devil of Choice
Cherry Lane Theatre, 38 Commerce Street, NYC
May 23 – June 9, 2018 only