New Rep's "Adultery": Truth Stranger Than Friction

Ciaran Crawford & Leda Uberbacher in "Scenes from an Adultery"
(photo: Andrew Brilliant/Brilliant Pictures)

New Rep Theatre's last production of its regular season, the world premiere of “Scenes from an Adultery” by Ronan Noone (whose play “Second Girl” was produced this past season by Huntington Theatre Company) is all about secrets and keeping them. Or not. Having to keep them can be the beginning of the end for a relationship, either within or outside marriage. It's not a novel story, adultery and its consequences. Noone takes a new spin on the age-old custom of circulating rumors true and untrue (or, as one neighborhood gossip used to put it, “tillage”, as in digging up dirt). Over the course of a scant seventy minutes, the playwright gradually reveals some of the inherent pitfalls in spreading the word. Or not. The consequences of keeping secrets or revealing them may be treacherous.
Where virtually nothing happened in “Second Girl”, a great deal happens in this play, though most of it occurs offstage, a problematic approach in theater. In a neighborhood pub, Gasper (Ciaran Crawford) reveals to his mate Tony (Peter Stray) that he suspects a mutual friend has been, well, naughty, in so many words (a goodly number of them naughty as well). Tony's wife Lisa (Leda Uberbacher) becomes involved in their subsequent discussions, eventually discovering what a tangled web they all have woven. There is a great deal of dialogue about Dean and Corrine, whom we never meet. Suffice it to say that, by the time their respective diatribes are over, much previously interred info has been unearthed, and psyches somewhat shattered. Truth when outed can be stranger than repressed friction.

For such a brief work, it's rather a slow set of reveals, and there's a lot of talk before some final onstage action. As ably directed by Bridget Kathleen O'Leary, the actors struggle to hold our interest, even if their parts are unevenly written. Each character pretty much plays the same notes throughout almost a half dozen scenes over a ten week period. The creative team, notably Set Designer Janie E. Howland (who created three set pieces, a living room, a pub, and a dining room), Costume Designer Molly Trainer, Lighting Designer Christopher Brusberg and Sound Designer David Remedios, have all helped to establish the appropriate milieu for all the verbal gymnastics. Originally set in the U.S., the casting led to its relocation to the U.K., as Crawford is from Ireland, Stray from London, and Uberbacher from Edinburgh. While it illustrates the universality of the work, it sometimes makes for some difficult accents to absorb.

The roles these folks play make for somewhat unpleasant characters as the play evolves, and hardly the most mature acquaintances to acquire, but if realistic dialogue and intelligent conversation are your thing, this will be right up your alley. It's the product of New Rep's Next Voices Playwriting Fellowship program. Roone himself states that his play is about limits and boundaries: “the point wasn't always about what they read or saw, but how it made them feel about themselves...a pinch of guilt...once they questioned the trust, it had the potential to be very explosive... the effect infidelity may have on others, the ones not directly involved...causing a ripple, then creating a larger wave”. It's rather like watching someone inevitably sink into quicksand, reminiscent of the famous Norman Rockwell Saturday Evening Post cover about gossip coming back to haunt the first monger. While it's described in the program as a comedy, there's not much to elicit laughter (the audience at the performance attended was unusually unresponsive). In fact, the play deals with some serious issues such as complicity by silence, sinning by omission and when damaging information is better shared or withheld, but it stands as an incomplete play. While it flirts with such topics, they're never quite consummated.

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