nytheatre.com review by Ivanna Cullinan
February 3, 2007
Billed as a dark comedy based on Jean-Paul Sartre's No Exit, Joyce Wu's Other People is a concise and provocative evening of theatre. While simpler and definitely less philosophically charged than Sartre's play, this piece provides plenty to talk about as it transposes the setting from eternal damnation to the kind of social evening that just feels endless and damned to the people involved.
In No Exit, there are three characters in a room who will torture each other for all eternity, primarily through the ways in which they do not allow each other's self delusions. The three characters in Other People are not actually in hell but rather in the simply furnished sublet of Krista, an actress and sexual provocateur, and their evening involves a reckless attempt at recharging the broken relationship of Alice and Gregg. The self delusions of these three are more common and recognizable, and at its best the play brings them out for all to see with a fair amount of humor.
Alice and Gregg, two twentysomethings and former college sweethearts, have come home with Krista after meeting her in an unspecified bar. Although there appears to be at least some form of understanding between Krista and Gregg about what they have come to the apartment to do, the presence of the passively hostile Alice complicates matters. Questions of commitment, sexual and emotional, immediately arise. They attempt more drinks and cards but a mutual antagonism takes over and attempts to leave begin. There are a few clunky moments within this set up and the initial hook-up is woefully underspecified; however, there is enough of interest happening within the underdeveloped moments that the production continues to engage and provoke.
Initially, Alice seems to want to leave whenever the possibility of sex is imminent and Gregg seeks flight whenever he might have to discuss something. Yet, just as it veers towards becoming a bit stereotypical, the piece expands and more specific conflicts arise. What could have been the banal and rather ordinary "you don't think I'm pretty anymore" is heightened to be more powerfully explored as a raw and fundamental need to know oneself as attractive to the loved one. This need is for specific, unhealed reasons and rather than wallowing, utilizes Alice's intelligence to go right into a challenging exploration of sexual stereotyping. When Krista, who has a fetish for Asian women, tries to persuade Alice that she is attractive because she is Asian, Alice counters that Krista is confusing a people with a person. As Alice points out, she is not "a few billion people," but herself alone. The exchange in which this point is scored happens with more humor than I can convey and there is a humorous bantering tone that lightens much of the dialogue throughout.
Krista, engagingly played by Amy Ludwigsen, is thoroughly centered in her physical nature though prone to putting her foot in her mouth. She manages to amuse, horrify, and annoy at different points; and Ludwigsen does not shy away from what makes her character unlikable—it is a saving grace to what could have been superficially played and dismissible. Evan Shafran is less successful as Gregg (and curiously indifferent whenever men as a group are insulted). During points in which Gregg is not speaking, he seems oddly unconnected and wanders a bit, but he does come through when Gregg is finally forced to speak about what is keeping him from Alice, and communicates a sympathetic take on the character throughout. In this production, Alice is played by the playwright herself and while she does a good job, it might be more beneficial to the writer to see another actor in the part—so that where Alice as a character is unclear or somewhat repetitive, the characterization could be more fully developed. That said, Joyce Wu does fine work in the part and conveys Alice's fragility without compromising her intelligence or innate power.
The play is brainy, and if sometimes against its efforts the production is a bit more smart than sexy, nonetheless it is humorous and its intelligence is redeeming. Other People is definitely not hell but does provide a hellacious amount of thought-provoking fun.