How far can you run to keep from being engaged? Not just in the marital sense, but engaged in your own life?
How far can you distance yourself from honest emotion? How long before a mask of imperious intellect starts to slip and the cynical barbs of self defense no longer keep intrigued invaders at bay?
Playwright Lucy Teitler’s new play “Engagements” explores these themes in an insightful and often amusing manner.
WHERE: Barrington Stage, Pittsfield, Massachusetts
WHEN: Through Aug. 30
HOW MUCH: $40 and up
MORE INFO: 413-236-8888, barringtonstageco.org
Lauren (Amanda Quaid), a twenty-something, morose and caustic Victorian literature PhD candidate, is living a rather empty existence in Boston. Perhaps subconsciously taking her cue to live her life from the titles that dot her bookshelf — “Bleak House,” “Heart of Darkness,” “Great Expectations” — she appears to find comfort in the worlds and characters in the anti-romance soap operas that she deconstructs to fulfill her thesis.
Cruising through a series of endless engagement parties with her best friend Allison (Kate Loprest, in a hilarious, well controlled performance), Lauren downs endless glasses of Pino Grigio while spouting stinging social commentary.
Allison’s boyfriend, Mark (Robert David Grant), may appear to be put off by Lauren’s misanthropy, but he is also titillated by her push and shove demeanor. At one of these parties, Mark and Lauren’s mutual antagonism leads to mutual attraction and something happens that “never should have happened.”
Running as far as she can from her calculated misstep, Lauren is dogged by Mark’s tenacity, which intrigues Lauren as much as it scares her. Thankfully her sunny younger cousin Catherine (Phoebe Strole) with her overly analytical boyfriend Ryan (Adam Gerber) in tow, arrives to distract and offer new blood over which to brood and glower.
Unfortunately the play seems more desperate than funny. The characters are ugly and one dimensional, and have difficulty making honest connections with each other, and with the audience.
The production is well directed by Lousia Proske, and the cast is excellent. Loprest’s Allison is a wonderful mix of that cloying sorority sister and vapid victim. Grant is perfectly smarmy, Gerber proves a compelling sleuth (and suitor) and Strole convinces with her innocence and optimism — and gets wonderfully chilly when she decides to self-corrupt.
But it is Quaid who anchors the play with a distanced anguish that intrigues as well as repels. You don’t like Lauren — she can be mean bombastic. But Quaid allows the hurt and fear to bubble just below the barbs. Not an easy task. It’s a delicate balance and the actress plays it well.
Sadly, in the final moments of the play when Lauren takes a chance on change and seizes control of her emotional life, the action seems forced, grabbing for a conclusion instead of arriving at one.