nytheatre.com review by Heather J. Violanti
August 23, 2009
At first, the premise of Troubles—two men wind up sharing an apartment, the neurotic guy gets on the other guy's nerves--resembles The Odd Couple, but with fewer laughs. Then, with telegraphed abruptness, someone confesses a dark secret. Things start to get all Pinteresque, with chilling glimpses into the cruel depths of the human soul.
At least, that seems to be writer/director Jeremiah Murphy's intent, but he doesn't quite pull it off. It's hard to mix breezy comedy with brooding drama, and in trying to be both, Troubles ends up being neither. The jokes are tepid (though there's a cute running gag about paranoid Bert's life-long fear of tap water). The dialogue repeats itself, less out of a stylistic choice and more out of the sense that the writer, faced with an increasingly dramatic situation, had no idea what to do with his characters. The dark secret, while a truly horrifying plot twist, leads to a soul-searching that merely skims the surface. The resultant conflict feels restrained, almost unbearably polite, as if the company was holding back from the true horror buried in the play's heart.
Still, Murphy's writing shows promise. The shocking secret is delivered in a powerful, well-constructed monologue whose emotions startle in a way much of the play's vaguer language does not. At its best, Troubles resembles a lost episode of The Twilight Zone written by Neil Simon. It can be quirky and scary at the same time. Too often, though, it's not specific enough to hit both marks.
As Ralph, the poor guy just trying to get some sleep while neurotic Bert rambles on about tap water, Nick Lucci demonstrates understated calm. It's a calm so understated as to be almost grating, particularly when the play shifts gears from normal to surreal. Jumpy Bert is the showier character, and accordingly, Joe Raik demonstrates more emotional levels. Both Raik and Lucci fashion believable, measured performances that, like the play itself, are almost cautious to a fault.
In the end, Troubles is too careful to be truly troubling, but it's well-crafted nonetheless.