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One disastrous dinner party, two married couples whose smoldering resentments toward each other are about to burst into flame, and three different ways that the evening could develop — that’s the ingenious setup for Theatre in the Park’s provocative presentation of Life x 3 (Trois versions de la vie), French playwright and screenwriter Yasmina Reza’s 2000 play about the R.M.S. Titanic of dinner parties. (Life x 3 concludes its two-week run on April 23-26 in the Ira David Wood III Pullen Park Theatre on the N.C. State University campus in Raleigh, NC.)
When the curtain rises, Henry and Sonia (David McClutchey and Carole Marcotte) have invited Hubert and Inez (Paul McCain and Leanne Norton Heintz) to dinner, but forgotten that the invitation was for that very evening. As Sonia and Hubert restlessly pace their swanky living room cluttered with children’s toys and games, discussing the details for tomorrow’s dinner party, but frequently interrupted by a seemingly endless litany of bedtime demands for food, water, etc., from their unseen but frequently heard six-year-old son, Arnaud, their dinner guests arrive — a day early in Henry and Sonia’s estimation, but right on time according to Hubert and Inez’s datebook.
Realizing that their cupboard is bare, Sonia and Henry scramble to feed Inez and Henry something, anything, but only come up with a box of chocolate finger cookies and a couple of bags of Cheez-Its® to go with the decent but unspectacular wine that they serve their guests. (This is truly every host and hostess’ nightmare.) Meanwhile, spoiled-rotten Arnaud keeps whining, his parents keep caving in to his demands, and the subject of whether to coddle difficult children becomes an unwelcome Topic A for the grownups to discuss.
The genius of dramatist Yasmina Reza (“Art”) is that she takes these basic facts, adds a smattering of work frictions between Henry and Hubert, plus marital tension between Inez and Hubert, and serves up this comic soufflé three different ways in a series of scenes performed without intermission.
David McClutchey is amusing as Henry, a struggling research astrophysicist who has just finished his first paper in several years. But on the eve of submitting it to a prestigious professional journal, he learns from Hubert that a pair of Mexican astrophysicists have just submitted a similar paper on the same subject. Depending on the scene, that unwelcome news plunges Henry into a bottomless depression – or he takes it in stride. (Henry is depression-prone in one scene, but self-confident and resilient in another.)
Carole Marcotte is a delight as Sonia, a lawyer by training who now works for a finance company. Life x 3 gives Marcotte the most opportunities to display different sides of Sonia’s personality, and Marcotte makes the most of them.
In scene one, Paul McCain makes Henry’s more successful scientific colleague, Hubert, the kind of false friend who would deliberately spoil a dinner party by delivering a mortal blow to the career hopes of his host during the meal. Hubert is a little more considerate in subsequent scenes, but throughout the evening it is clear that he has no real respect for Henry, and Hubert and Inez have a host of issues that they choose to work out in public.
After a tentative start at Sunday’s matinee performance, Leanne Norton Heintz found her acting legs and delivered a compelling characterization as Inez, a frustrated and resentful stay-at-home wife. Inez comes undone when a run in her pantyhose threatens to spoil the evening from her, but she gets precious little sympathy from Hubert, who is eager to poleax Henry with the bad news that his publication prospects have hit the proverbial iceberg.
Theatre in the Park guest director Carnessa Ottelin does a fine job of making these variations on characters and plot twists seem fresh scene after scene after scene. Scenic and lighting designer Stephen J. Larson skillfully transforms the set from the national tour of Legends (originally designed by Global Scenic Services) into the posh but child-cluttered home of Henry and Sonia, costume designer Lynda Clark outfits the cast in a jaunty array of glad-rags and stay-at-home attire, and sound designer Will Mike helps Life x 3 win the hearts and minds of its audience by making the offstage voice of Arnaud so real that this unseen increasingly irritating fifth character becomes the fingernails on the blackboard for parents and non-parents everywhere.
For times and dates of the remaining performances, see our calendar.