The Three Times She Knocked
nytheatre.com review by Michael Mraz
August 14, 2011
I think it is fairly safe to say that we have all had a moment of "love at first sight" in our lives. Perhaps to varying degrees, but we all experience it. Some people wonder what it would be like to be with that person. Others know how their life would turn out with that person. But that person is definitely "the one" in that particular moment. Never mind that the "love at first sight" often doesn't get beyond the actual first sight. Or that the the other person may not feel the same way. Or that we know absolutely nothing about this person: they could be a saint, a spiteful human being, or even an ax murderer. But we know we want them, it can't be helped. Playwright A.D. Penedo takes that idea to a new level in his FringeNYC offering The Three Times She Knocked, with fantastic, entertaining results.
Eric works at a firm. He's the all-around nice guy; hilarious, everyone loves him. However, he's fallen intensely, passionately in love with the new junior member of the firm, Tara. With him a happily married man, and she a happily married girl, he decides that the best way to go about the situation is to avoid her at every turn—else all may be lost in an epic landslide of his passion. The problem is that Tara has realized this and, hearing from co-workers what a wonderful guy Eric is, comes knocking on his office door to find out what the problem is between them. After much cajoling, Eric finally agrees to tell her the truth through a hypothetical situation about a "friend" from "another firm", "Aaron"—o as to avoid any trouble from Human Resources (it's endlessly hilarious watching the characters try to stick to the "hypothetical situation" throughout). Eric confesses "Aaron's" intense love and devotion for his new co-worker—a love so powerful that it's beyond the mortal plane of existence; however, Tara is confused. They don't actually know each other, how could he possibly know he loves her that much. But Eric—errr, "Aaron"—just knows. This has happened previously with another co-worker 11 years before and nearly drove him to madness over his love. She leaves with this knowledge and seems to empathize with his plight, helping out by avoiding him as well...until she comes knocking a second time. Curiosity has gotten the best of Tara. She coaxes the details of Eric's most intense feelings and fantasies out of him. By the third time Tara knocks, she has been pulled into Eric's world of intense feeling and the play takes a shocking, but well-earned, left turn (which would be a sin to reveal).
Penedo's writing is fantastically gripping. He mixes humor, awkwardness, and magnetic sexual tension in perfect doses. His convention of switching between the scene at hand and freeze-frame moments where Eric gives us his inner monologue is well utilized and smooth and adds extra humor and an over-the-top irrationality to Eric's character. Bob D'Haene tiptoes carefully on the line between passionate sincerity and downright creepiness. His Eric perfectly blurs the line, making us wonder if this is just the harmless insanity we feel when we find that instant connection with someone, or just pure insanity. His awkwardness is at the same time sad, relatable, and hilarious and he handles the more poetic romantic moments with perfect sincerity. Isabel Richardson's Tara is equally as fantastic. She effortlessly wavers back and forth between being amused by Eric, extremely weirded out by the situation, and betraying an intense need to be accepted and loved in the way that only Eric may be able to offer. Richardson brings out that relatable need in us all to sometimes encourage love in inappropriate situations, simply because we at times need to know that someone else feels that way. More importantly, they are great together. Richardson and D'Haene have a great chemistry and seem to feed off each other's conversely awkward and passionate moments. Their second scene, in which Eric details his fantasies for Tara, oozes with such sexual tension, romantic, poetic language, and mutual desire that it would put a romance novel to shame (I mean that in a good way). And though D'Haene does most of the talking you can feel the same anticipation, intense curiosity, and longing from Richardson. This is also a credit to Christopher Windom's direction, whose crisp staging and pacing gives the audience a reason to hang on every moment.
The Three Times She Knocked is entertaining from beginning to end and anchored by two intensely excellent performances. It balances moments of hilarity and discomfort, and finds a way to be almost cartoonishly over-the-top (with the intensity of Eric's love) but never for a moment unbelievable. For love is an irrational thing. It borders on insanity at times. But just how insane can it make us? And just how irrational can we each get? The Three Times She Knocked may just answer that…