Broadcast Blues

-- Eddie Silva

PRIVATE EYES
By Steven Dietz
Midnight Productions

Private Eyes probes the stomach-churning emotions, both pleasant and painful, generated by an adulterous love affair. It's the story of a woman shared by two men who are in close daily contact with each other -- here the director of a play and the husband and wife who play the leading roles in it. Private Eyes reminded me of Harold Pinter's Betrayal and Tom Stoppard's The Real Thing. But playwright Steven Dietz also throws in trompe l'oeil plot twists that had me thinking of David Mamet's film The Spanish Prisoner and Jean Genet's play The Maids. The Spanish Prisoner struck me as a largely empty exercise in mind games. I had the same reaction to the first act of Private Eyes, which begins with an audition that turns out to be not an audition after all but a scene from a play. Dietz's writing was clever, funny, sometimes scary, but without a lot of substance. In the second act, however, the uncertainty of the line between fantasy and reality becomes not merely a playwright's cleverness but, as in Genet, a way of revealing the insides of the characters and the ways that they -- and we -- deal with the curves life throws us, sometimes by constructing a parallel reality that's more to our liking.

Stephanie Vogt plays the wife. Vogt has lovely, large blue eyes that you can believe both her husband and her director want to drown themselves in. More important, Vogt uses those eyes to show what's going on inside her character -- her assurance, her disdain, her uncertainty, her fear, her sorrow, the mingled triumph and dread the first time the director touches her. What's happening in those eyes then resonates through Vogt's voice and through all the rhythms of her performance.

As the husband of Vogt's character, David Wassilak demonstrates once again that he has mastered the art of speaking volumes in the silence of a carefully timed, contemplative stare. And he can switch from that restraint to an almost boyish glee when something goes his way. You also notice, as the play progresses and you begin to catch on to what's real and what's fantasy, that Wassilak calibrates his performance on the reality-artificiality scale to match the moment in the script.

Joe Hanrahan plays the director of the play that Vogt and Wassilak's husband-and-wife team are rehearsing. The director is British, but Hanrahan's accent hovers somewhere over the Atlantic, often closer to the American shore than the English. Nor is the character's easy, ingratiating charm something that comes naturally to Hanrahan. But any shortcomings in the details of Hanrahan's portrayal of the character fade before the concentrated intensity with which he drives a scene forward.

As a character who starts out as a waitress in a delirious blond-beehive hairdo, then goes through a couple of surprising transformations, Susan Fay exercises a degree of control and flashes a wit that I haven't seen in previous performances -- this looks like a breakthrough role, technically, for her. Lynn Rosemann completes the ensemble, somewhat unsteadily, as a counselor to both characters and audience.

Dick Colloton directs Private Eyes in the best possible way -- unobtrusively. He's also mounted it on the soundstage at Technisonic Studios against seamless white walls and floor. Appropriately for a play that mingles external and internal reality, the actors and their furniture seem to float in the blankness, suspended in Doug Hastings' lighting.

-- Bob Wilcox

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