By Tulis McCall
There is something charming about Engagements, now at the McGinn/Cazale Theater as part of Second Stage Theater’s Uptown summer series. The title is many layered as are the characters. Lauren (Ana Nogueira) and her best friend Allison (Jennifer Kim) live in Boston. It is summer, and they are ore or less bored. Perhaps stranded is a better word. Lauren is stuck working on a Ph.D. in literature and Allison is tethered to her beau Mark (Michael Stahl-David). The season is overflowing with engagement parties equipped with gazebos, and all that is on anyone’s mind is romance, deceit and sex. It is as if intelligent folks were abducted from another city and plopped into a Bostonian bubble where actual thoughts are not allowed. Eventually they are going to bust wide open and make a mess doing so.
Lucy Teitler gives us characters who are far from perfect and willing to show it. Not consciously of course. Even Lauren, who narrates much of the piece, will not admit to being messed up. She will only go so far as to admit that bad behavior is a possible illusion. Something may – or may not – have happened at all. The particular bad behavior is a tryst in one of those gazebos with her best friend’s beau. It is an assignation that she instigates and that he accepts willingly. When he pursues the matter Lauren feigns outrage and despair all the while sipping on the Kool Aide.
Aside from the aforementioned three-some there is the contrived addition of Lauren’s cousin Catherine (Brooke Weisman) and her beau Ryan (Omar Maskati) both of whom eventually earn the right to be in the story, but precious time is wasted here.
In lesser hands this would not be of interest, but this more than competent cast and director are stealthy in their approach. The action is simple because everything underneath it is so complicated. Indeed do we not live our lives in this way? We create an exterior that is manageable while underneath we are roiling with emotion and thought. I’m fine, and I will not tell you how angry I am at that very moment about something that has nothing to do with you. I will sit and talk to you like a normal person, all the while entertaining the insane party going on in my head. Sound familiar?
These characters are blunt in their own weird ways. But they do have the chance to vent directly to us in the form of some expertly crafted monologues. (These are delivered using a microphone, which is an unnecessary and distracting contrivance.) Here we see the germs of realization sprouting into full grown ideas and actions. The world around them stops as they posit their next steps.
In Engagements, the person with whom you arrived at the party is not necessarily the person with whom you will leave. There are some stunning gems in this play, and there are some equally obscure clunkers. But the production itself is buoyed by the cast and director. You end up thinking about your own layered life and the ways in which you not only live it but present it.
This play deserves a closer look. Ms. Teitler could not ask for a better production from which to take lessons and plunge forward to the next incarnation. All the pieces are there, and these characters are ready to rumble.
Engagements By Lucy Teitler; directed by Kimberly Senior
WITH: Jennifer Kim (Allison), Omar Maskati (Ryan), Ana Nogueira (Lauren), Michael Stahl-David (Mark) and Brooke Weisman (Catherine).
Sets by Wilson Chin; costumes by Beth Goldenberg; lighting by Jen Schriever; sound by Ryan Rumery; production stage manager, Donald Fried; production manager, Steve Rosenberg; general manager, Jonathan Whitton. Presented by Second Stage Theater Uptown, Carole Rothman, artistic director; Casey Reitz, executive director; Christopher Burney, associate artistic director. Through Aug. 14 at McGinn/Cazale Theater, 2162 Broadway, at West 76th Street, 212-246-4422, 2st.com. Running time: 1 hour 20 minutes.