How many times have each of us wondered what would have happened at that dinner party if things had gone differently? And how many times have playwrights and screenwriters attempted to capture that conundrum of human existence? The answer to both questions is: Countless.
In Life x 3 by Yasmina Reza (translated by Christopher Hampton), Sonia and Henry are hosting an older couple, Hubert and Inez, for dinner. Unfortunately, the guests have arrived a day early and there’s hardly any food in the house. And they can’t go out to dinner since the hosts’ six-year old son Arnaud is crying for attention in the next room.
Taking this premise, Reza then plays the evening’s conversation through three different times with three different outcomes. And during these versions we learn of many interpersonal conflicts: Research scientist Henry is desperate for approval from his superior Hubert, Hubert is hot for and has a history with Sonia, Inez is always doing a slow boil when her husband puts her down, and little Arnaud (an unseen Mary Alice Beck) keeps crying for snacks and cuddles.
It is an admittedly intriguing concept, and a talented cast under the direction of Greg Cesear does its best to make this triple layer cake turn out well. They accomplish that task splendidly in the first iteration of the “dinner” party, when the dynamics of the situation are fresh and surprising and Reza’s sharp wit is in evidence. But as the second and third replays continue, the air slowly seeps out of this balloon until, by the end, the premise feels rather deflated.
It’s a challenging task to take an audience through three versions of the same conversation with subtle changes that slightly tweak reactions. As a result, you spend more time trying to suss out what’s different this time than you do becoming engrossed in the character dynamics.
Still, Cesear is an accomplished and inventive director and he teases interesting performances out of his cast. Tricia Bestic is sharp and no-nonsense as Sonia, taking charge of her home as well as her (sometimes) vacillating husband played with bursts of self-flagellation by Brian Bowers. Dana Hart is solid as the pompous Hubert, and his nasty zingers directed at his wife are played off with humorous diffidence by Julia Kolibab as Inez.
There are aspirations to the metaphysical in Reza’s script, but the repeated renditions don’t provide the necessary snap of realization that is required to bring the audience along. Instead, by the end, it feels as if we’ve been stumbling through several rough drafts of a piece that isn’t quite finished.
Life x 3
Through Oct. 28 at Cesear’s Forum, Playhouse Square, Kennedy’s Down Under, 1501 Euclid Ave., 216-241-6000, playhousesquare.org