In 1994, Yasmina Reza burst onto the international theatre scene with her highly effective and successful play ART, an absorbing portrait of friendship and the state of the contemporary art scene. In 2008, her play GOD OF CARNAGE centered on two couples each defending their child’s involvement in an incident in a nearby park. As the evening progresses their behaviors spiral out of control. In between these two plays came LIFE X 3 in 2000 which shared elements of both plays. Once again, we have 2 couples getting together at one of their homes and an evening that unravels as civility descends into chaos.
Sonia (Lynn Favin) and Henry (Charles Pasternak) seem to have a good life. They have a beautiful home in Paris, a 6-year-old son and each are deeply involved in their respective careers. Sonia is tightly wound up at the top of the show as she is preparing for an important meeting the next morning. When their son (never seen, only heard) starts having temper tantrums, Sonia, to put it mildly, is not pleased. Henry tries to diffuse the situation by placating the boy which only serves to further irritate Sonia. As the tensions between them mount, two guests arrive for dinner, a day early. Sonia rushes into the bedroom to change while Henry ushers in Hubert (Scott Golden) and Inez (Betsy Moore), their unexpected company. Hubert, like Henry, is a scientist involved with astrophysics. But unlike Henry, Hubert is far more recognized and successful in their field and not shy of reminding Henry of that fact. Inez, on the other hand, appears to be the long-suffering wife who her husband clearly believes she has nothing to say that is worth hearing. Sonia and Henry are unprepared to entertain and only have chocolate fingers and Cheez-it crackers on hand, so it doesn’t take long before the alcohol consumed begins to have an effect. Hubert announces that someone seems to have beaten Henry in publishing a finding Henry had counted on to boost his career to at least Hubert’s level. This pushes Henry into a totally defensive mode and the evening ends amidst a lot of shouting and damaged relationships.
But then Reza performs theatrical magic. The scene begins again but with several subtle and some not-so-subtle changes in the characters’ behaviors. Sonia is not nearly as tightly wound as she was in the previous scene. Hubert is far more flirtatious than he was, and Henry seems to be a heavier drinker than before. This time around, Inez is allowed to have a bit more to say but still is easily dismissed as irrelevant. With these changes, along with a somewhat better-behaved child (still offstage and unseen) we see the difference in how the scene plays out.
The author then rounds out the night with a third replay of the scene by again making tweaks to the characters’ behaviors. Henry now drinks more than before and seems almost bi-polar. Sonia appears to be an even gentler incarnation than in the two previous scenes but more passionate and receptive to Hubert’s advances. Hubert goes way beyond flirting as he practically makes love to Sonia the moment their respective spouses leave the room to check in on Henry & Sonia’s son, who is now almost totally silent. And Inez has a lot more to say about a lot more subjects. Once again, we see the different conclusion to the night’s events with these altered personalities.
As always, the casting at CVREP is excellent. In their production of LIFE X 3 all four actors hold their own by giving a depth and reality to each role. It would not be hard to have these characters become unlikeable and alienating to an audience at various parts of the play. But each performer manages to let us see other facets of their character’s personality even when they are silently reacting to what is going on around them. By making them three dimensional, it keeps the audience involved and caring about what happens to each character. Bravo to all four performers!
Jimmy Cuomo’s set is wonderful and has surprises of its own. It is open and roomy with a central window looking out towards the Eiffel Tower. It has enough detail and styling to convey an upscale home in that chicest of cities. At the transition from Scene One to Scene Two, the room, much of which is on a turntable, turns just enough to give a slightly different perspective without becoming a different room altogether, Moira Wilkie Whitaker’s lighting design, both inside and outside the house, provides the perfect compliment whether it is the naturalistic indoor lighting or the ‘something is going on’ lighting during the transitions between scenes.
Yasmina Reza is an author known for thought-provoking plays made more accessible via her sharp wit and socially-based situations. It takes a good director to get the right balance of comedy and satire mixed with some heavier dramatic moments. I am happy to say that Joanne Gordon’s direction has beautifully accomplished the task at hand. In each scene, the actors make the changes in personality instantly clear and maintain the differences throughout each scene. The play flows with a brisk pace that nurtures the laughs without minimizing the dramatic moments throughout the play.
The obvious idea that the author conveyed is that even the slightest change in someone can bring around major differences in results. But I must confess that I am still pondering if the author had a deeper concept in mind. And that’s a good thing……even 24 hours after seeing the play, I am still thinking about it and what it had to say!
CVREP’s production of LIFE X 3 is playing through Feb. 6, 2022. For more information or to purchase tickets go to their website WWW.CVREP.ORG or call 760-296-2966 or visit the theatre’s box office located at 68510 E. Palm Canyon Drive, Cathedral City, CA 92234