Life x 3

Theatre in the Park
Through April 26

Theatre in the Park’s tagline for Life X 3 is: “Where Groundhog Day meets Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” That description gets at two prominent features of Yasmina Reza’s play, which puts two couples in a living room with a lot of alcohol and watches them go at each other, and then repeats the scene, with differences, twice.

But Reza, best known for her international smash Art (her latest, God of Carnage, is currently a hit on Broadway with James Gandolfini and other stars), is French, and Life X 3, though it borrows from American entertainment forms, is a categorically European play: austere, dry and modish, and given to epigrammatic intellectualization in the face of despair. Reza’s consanguinity with Edward Albee inheres not in the method-acting-friendly knockdown-drag-out of Virginia Woolf but in the playwrights’ shared absurdist existentialism (Reza once adapted Kafka’s Metamorphosis for the stage).

But Life X 3 reaches even further back than existentialism: It’s a farceat times almost a sitcom in Carnessa Ottelin’s breezy directionthat proceeds from a good-ol’-wacky misunderstanding. Hubert (Paul S. McCain) and Inez (Leanne Norton-Heintz) arrive for dinner at the bourgeois home of Henry (David McClutchey) and Sonia (Carole Marcotte, strongly recalling Helen Hunt, who played the role in the American premiere) on the wrong nightor did Henry and Sonia misremember the date? Plied with emergency junk food instead of crab salad and lamb, and with ceaseless drinks, the guests battle their unready and resentful hosts in a four-hander of status-mongering, marital vitriol and extramarital lecherousness, lacerating honesty about how much they disdain (or desire) each other and, occasionally, astrophysical theory (Henry and Hubert are scientists) that sets the stage for metaphysical expostulations on the nature of the Universe and our place in it. The audience observes with conflicting oh-no-he-didn’t! laughter, disgust and philosophical detachment.

Reza’s deliberate collision of the concrete and the abstract encourages our rubbernecking by passing us by the scene three times, each a discrete one-act. It’s not clear how these iterations are supposed to alter our perceptions of the events or characters, but perhaps it’s worth keeping in mind that Reza’s original French title is Les Trois Versions de la Vie, which emphasizes not multiplication but variation. And if these scenes are indeed meant as exercises or studies, one theme they keep returning to also hails from the Old Country: the sick soul of the bourgeoisie. When Inez, holding her fourth or fifth glass of Sancerre, foresees the unbearable ride home she’ll have with her arrogant, captious husband after this evening from hell, it will be in their Audi. Maybe “it’s all built on nothing,” as one character says of existence, but how many of us wouldn’t be happy to have their version de la vie?