Filler Mind Games

ATC's Season Finale Goes Behind Those 'Private Eyes.'
By Margaret Regan

STEVEN DIETZ HAS come up with a novel variation on the time-honored play-within-a-play device: His brand-new comedy Private Eyes is a play within a play within a play within a play within a therapy session. In fact, there are so many layers in this intricately structured work about marriage and adultery that the audience is forced to take on the title role, and do the detective work of figuring out what's reality and what's not.

Dietz's clever, psychological who-done-what-and-why makes an entertaining season finale for The Arizona Theatre Company. The play is full of goofy wordplay--a psychiatrist named Frank asks of his patients that they be as frank as he is--and marvelously comic theatrical turnabouts that keep the audience guessing. The playwright isn't shy about using the make-believe world of the theatre as a metaphor for life's illusions.

The three characters in his love triangle are all theatre people, and the play they're rehearsing mirrors their own real-life situation: It's about a director having an affair with a married actress. The audience is never entirely sure whether the scene they're watching is from the "real" story or from the play within a play. Neither are the characters.

Early on, the wronged husband, the actor Matthew, played as an appealing Everyman by R. Hamilton Wright, confronts his errant wife, the actress Lisa, and her lover, the manipulative director Adrian. The horrified lovers recoil as Matthew thunders out his accusations. Then he stops his diatribe abruptly, and cheerfully tells them he's simply reciting some new lines that have been sent posthaste by the playwright. Given a seeming reprieve, Lisa (Sally Wingert) and Adrian (David Pichette) are left to ponder: What does he know and when did he know it?

The question reverberates throughout this play, which also has its serious side. Private Eyes suggests it's impossible ever to know exactly what lurks behind your loved one's "private eyes." Connections between people are tenuous and fragile, all too subject to random rifts and chance encounters that devolve into life-changing affairs. There's a bit of a nasty edge to this play, as well, which was written by the same author who crafted last season's wicked Dracula. Matthew exults over the "adventure of revenge"--in one fantasy scene he poisons the lovers with the help of a detective (or is she a writer?) gone undercover as a waitress (Katie Forgette). And one can detect some private retribution being wrought in the dreadful character of Adrian, who declares that "directors are paid to be assholes."

Image Elsewhere the author cynically discourses on long-term marriage: He has Matthew wonder aloud whether the only thing that will get a bored partner's attention is something hurtful, along the lines of adultery. But we never do learn much about the adultery that's at the heart of the play. Wingert gets the character of Lisa down as an intelligent, sensitive woman, whereas Adrian is a guy she rightly dismisses at the start as a creep. So why does she succumb to his sleazy come-ons? The psychiatrist Frank, hilariously and warmly played by Jeff Steitzer, addressing the audience directly, tells us that infidelity is a fluid line between fantasy and reality that sometimes just gets crossed. One patient, he says, crossed it "because the earth was curved." But Dietz never sufficiently clues us in to Lisa's motivation, and that's a frustration. We know far more about the character of Matthew: It's through his private eyes that we view all the other characters.

Given its complex structure, the play is sometimes confusing, especially in the early scenes before the audience catches onto Dietz's modus operandi. But it moves quickly after that, and director David Ira Goldstein leads his talented players nimbly through the shifting mazes of the playwright's imagination. Scott Weldin's shrewdly designed rolling sets help bring the audience along for the ride.

Private Eyes, a production of the Arizona Theatre Company, continues at various times through Saturday, May 18, at The Temple Of Music And Art, 330 S. Scott Ave. Tickets range from $17 to $26, with group discounts available. For information and reservations call 622-2823. TW

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