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Pedantic Triangle

Resentment-Fest Forgets to Supply a Reason to Care

Alison Buckley, Tim Grieb, and R. Brett Rohrer (from left) form a triangle.

By Geoffrey Himes | Posted 2/11/2009

To truly appreciate the brilliance of Edward Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf, it helps to see a second-rate knockoff like Noah Galuten's Bermuda. Galuten, who has contributed script coverage to such television shows as Boston Legal, The Practice, and Ally McBeal, is not a bad writer, but he is so eager to match Albee's raw honesty that he jumps into the rawness and leaves the honesty behind.

There are, of course, differences. In Bermuda, Christie and Michael are newlyweds, not longtime spouses. They are visited not by a couple of new acquaintances, but by a single individual, Donald, who happens to be both Michael's brother and Christie's ex. But the dynamic is the same: In their own, comfortable living room, a married couple entangles an uncomfortable visitor in the disappointments and frustrations of their marriage by saying all the things that are usually left unspoken.

In Albee, however, George and Martha maintain a false air of hospitality at all times, as if they were waving a handkerchief to distract the visitors from the thrusting stiletto. In Galuten, all pretense is soon dropped and the three just go at each other with verbal hatchets. In Bermuda, the switch from polite conversation to blurted confessions and brutal accusations is so abrupt and sudden that the play loses much of its credibility.

One moment, Christie's telling Michael sweet nothings in a baby voice; the next, moment she's saying that she doesn't care if he goes or stays. One moment, Donald's politely complimenting Christie's desserts; the next, he's grabbing at her. One moment, Michael's boasting of his happy marriage and new promotion; the next, he's barking that maybe he's not a rich, successful writer like his brother, but he's still worth something.

These drastic transformations feel prompted not by the characters' motivations, but by the playwright's impatience to get to the showy confrontations. It's not clear why he's in such a hurry. The play was only 65 minutes long on opening night, so there is plenty of room for a more gradual development of the plot when Galuten does a much-needed rewrite.

Many times performers playing members of the same family on stage appear nothing of the kind. But director Jayme Kilburn has done of good job of casting Michael and Donald with R. Brett Rohrer and Tim Grieb respectively, two actors who not only look alike--stocky torsos, square faces, puppy eyes, boring work clothes, and brown hair--but also share a kind of reticence that merely camouflages a sullen resentment. One never doubts that they are brothers.

As Christie, Alison Buckley is a welcome contrast--tall, red-headed, and fluttery in a blue blouse. She gets the show off to a good start by telegraphing Christie's insecurity about her new marriage. She tells Michael that whenever she says, "Sunshine," he should say, "Lollipops," just to confirm that he still loves her. She presents this as a sweet, romantic gesture, but he instantly recognizes it as a manipulative ploy that will embarrass him in many situations--and sure enough it soon does.

In similar fashion, Donald proposes a party game: If you were stranded on a desert island in Bermuda and you were given the choice of one islandmate--Ava Gardner or Marilyn Monroe, Adolf Hitler or no one--who would you choose? It soon becomes clear, though, that game has been suggested to make Christie think about who'd she'd like as an islandmate--Michael or Donald.

Bermuda is at its best in these early moments, when the characters are pretending to be nice as they pursue their ulterior motives. All too soon, however, the facade is dropped and the three just start venting. And while the cast does a better job with the strong, obvious feelings than with the subtle, disguised emotions, the show suffers as a result.

There's no denying the intensity of accusations flung back and forth at such close quarters, though. The small store-front space of the Strand Theater is so cramped that to reach their seats, many audience members had to walk across the stage's brown risers, which bump up against the knees of those in the front row. With the second-hand armchair where Michael flops down after work and the sofa where Christie and Donald share a forbidden kiss just a few feet away, we often feel as if we're sitting in the same living room.

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