nytheatre.com review by Michael Criscuolo
The main conflict of Matthew Barton's new comedy, Three-Ways, involves a 32-ounce bottle of vegetable oil. Lisa and Ted have just returned from a weekend getaway to find that the vegetable oil they purchased a few days ago is missing. Suspicion is immediately cast on Ted's friend, Runner, who watched the apartment over the weekend. They call Runner and invite him over on the pretense of having some beers, but Lisa is hell-bent on getting to the bottom of the vegetable oil mystery.
August 26, 2006
You see, Lisa doesn't like Runner: she thinks he's a revolting pervert who's done something unsavory with the vegetable oil. Ted thinks Lisa is a drama queen who overreacts to things sometimes—like her insistence that Ted has a crush on Runner. And Runner is a devil-may-care stoner with a yen for Lisa.
And there's someone in a big chicken suit...
Hence, the stage is set for Three-Ways, which tells its story Rashomon-style from each character's point of view, resulting in some drastic discrepancies of perception. What seems like friendliness to one comes off as bitchiness to another. Affability gets mistaken for lethargy, friendship comes off as seduction, and mixed signals abound in this modern-day farce.
With so much potential for comic buffoonery, Three-Ways has its moments, mostly in the performances of its three stars. Monica Cortez is both alluring and imperious as Lisa. R.J. Foster gets Ted's horndog eagerness down solid, and Vince Lombardi is convincingly affable and annoying as Runner. All three performers have nice comic timing, total commitment to the material, and a willingness to make fools of themselves—qualities which lead to some hearty laughs along the way.
Unfortunately, the play's multiple point of view gimmick grows tiresome early. While Barton is clear about when the POV changes occur, he is never clear about what is actually taking place. If I hadn't read about the multiple POVs in the press release, I don't think I would have had a clear idea what was going on.
Then there's the play's actual structure, in which a section of the script—say, about two to three minutes worth—is played through once from one character's viewpoint, then repeated twice more immediately from the other characters' perspectives. This results in the audience watching the same scene three times (albeit, three different versions of it) within a ten-minute span. While there is some variety to each version, this approach tries the audience's patience.
Most unfortunate of all is Barton's inability to clarify whose POV is whose. I spent the entire performance trying to figure this out. For instance, whenever Lisa shows her teeth and savagely attacks Runner, is this her idealized perception of what she'd like to do or Ted's perception of her catty behavior towards his friend? Whenever Lisa comes on to Runner, is this what Ted fears is happening or what Runner secretly hopes for? Three-Ways is full of such confusing moments.
Like his cast, Barton has a fine sense of humor, and fires off some good jokes along the way. But, this project doesn't show anyone off in an ideal light.
And I'm still wondering what that person in the chicken suit is all about...