Credit: Jon Leong

Credit: Jon Leong

It’s hard to know precisely what to say about “Intermission.” What’s real and what’s not real are difficult to tell apart in this clever, light Pirandellian melodrama by Daniel Libman, now playing at the Clurman Theatre on Theatre Row under the direction of Wayne Maugans.

“Intermission” takes place in the Spartan lobby of a theatre on the opening night of “Intromission,” a new play written by “author unknown”. The lobby is dominated by an upstage wall of corrugated siding, which, along with some large cardboard boxes piled randomly at left, seems to define the playing space as a small, newly-constructed theater in a suburban strip mall that didn’t quite finish cleaning up its lobby in time for opening night. A flat-screen television hangs on the upstage lobby wall; while the play is in action it shows a digital image of the stage setting (which is imagined off-stage left) and during blackouts it flashes one-word messages, like early Silent Cinema inter-titles announcing the next scene. The exit at stage right leads to the greater lobby and the real world outside. A single bench at center, the kind you might find in a museum, is the only furniture in the room.

Scenic designer Jay Ryan has simply nailed this uber-neutral environment, so kudos to him for that, but along with the playwright he has relegated the actors to an inhospitable playing area. A lobby is a place for people to meet before entering the theater proper, and again to mingle in during intermission, perhaps with a cocktail. The staging options are quite finite; there is no reason to cross anywhere, except to the bench to sit, and in short order the cast has exhausted all the movement possibilities at their disposal on the small stage of the Clurman.

Into this lobby, twenty minutes before “Intromission” (sic) is to start, arrive a bickering middle-aged married couple, Lori (Margot White) and Blake (Michael Brusasco). Lori seems very nervous, upset that her lesbian friend Gabe (Carol Todd) isn’t already there with her mystery date. The playfully goofy Blake, a dentist in need of a dental hygienist, ironically, turns out to be obsessed with sexual fantasies about lesbian couples, preferably twins. When Gabe finally arrives she has the beautiful Tina (Jessica Griffin) in tow, who turns out to be a dental hygienist though not a lesbian, but who has an identical twin that is bisexual. The three main scenes that comprise “Intromission” are before the show, during intermission and after the play. The mystery author of “Intromission” turns out to be actually one of these four characters, and the offstage play has been mounted in order to announce that one of them is coming out of the closet.

The game cast navigates the treacherous water of this purposefully contrived plot with aplomb, aided in no small measure by especially strong performances toward the end, where the lightness of the early going veers toward painful parting scenes, as the offstage production (and its “coming out” announcement) takes a heavy toll on relationships. The playwright has given each character a meaty exit scenario to play, and all of the actors really step up to the plate here and deliver emotional, credible scene work. Mr. Maugans’ staging, as constrained as it is, has flashes of inspiration that generally carry the day (offstage “audience members” appear as shadows cast on the lobby wall), and the modest but effective costume, light, graphic and sound design elements have been integrated seamlessly. Mr. Libman’s play, for what it lacks in dramatic weight, makes up for in clever dialogue and the number of alternate realities it manages to conjure. They sneak up on you.

As I exited through the lobby after the performance, it struck me, passing through groups of people who were waiting to see cast members after the show, that the play could have been staged out there, right in the lobby. Then I wondered if another, final scene might actually break out any minute, perhaps the play wasn’t over after all, but by that time I had traversed the aesthetically vapid confines of the outer lobby and left the theater, stage right, for the real world outside.

Voyage Theater Company and B2Y Entertainment present “Intermission,” a new play by Daniel Libman. Directed by Wayne Maugans.

Cast: Michael Brusasco (Blake), Jessica Griffin (Tina), Carol Todd (Gabe), and Margot White (Lori). Lighting Design, Paul Bartlett, Motion Graphics Design, Dan Henry Bohler, Sound Design, Bruce Ellman, Costume Design, Peri Grabin Leong, Scenic Design, Jay Ryan, Production Stage Manager, Jim Pelegano. At the Clurman Theater, 410 West 42nd Street, Wed – Sat 8PM, Sun 3PM through May 26th. Tickets available at the Theatre Row box office or online at Telecharge. Running time 1 hour 20 minutes.