The More Loving One
nytheatre.com review by Jack Hanley
August 17, 2011
Twentysomethings caught off guard by the sudden whirlwind of adulthood is a familiar theme in plays and films. These stories often steer toward an endearing ending with revelations about love, friendship and commitment. But playwright Cory Conley’s language is too smart and too audacious to conjure a thematic cliché. For him, revelations are fleeting and adulthood offers no comfortable, permanent resting place; it’s just something to get used to. The More Loving One doesn’t want to be charming; it’s fast and ferociously funny. And it distinguishes Conley as a new, important voice of the Millennial Generation.
The integrity of Conley’s dialogue is established by its tension. And the play begins (and rarely lets up) with palpable tension. Matt and Lauren, a young married couple, have just returned home from a long day at court where a friend of Matt is being tried for statutory rape. Matt is a witness for the prosecution. His mood when he returns home is manic, righteous and condescending. He’s on a verbose jag jumping from one topic to another often contradicting himself. Lauren tries at first to dismiss him, and we understand quickly she endures this behavior often. And yet she can’t ignore him; she starts questioning him, trying to decode the subtext of everything he’s saying, trying to find some seamless meaning of the man she married. A Sisyphean effort on her part, and no less so when she tries to justify her own contradictions.
Just as their squabbling is about to reach full boil, we’re introduced to Matt and Lauren’s roommate Heinrich and his boyfriend Henry. Heinrich immediately knows they’ve walked in on “a thing.” Matt insists they not leave, but stay, drink and join the tension. And as the evening progresses they seem to fall into a game of who can misunderstand each other the most.
Henry is not so much part of this game. He’s sweet, smart, and diligently pragmatic. He seems to represent the playwright’s point of view: a contradictory character is human nature. Hoping our life has continuity or a stable path only sets us up for broken promises and lost dreams. Henry tries to remain above the fray, until he’s faced with the unexpected. There are many absorbing twists in the play that lead each character to a difficult decision. But revealing them would risk weakening the story’s punch.
Director Craig Baldwin has an uncanny precision in his modulation of tone and pacing. Conley’s script is full of lashing humor, and Baldwin smartly uses it not so much to release the tension among the characters, but to lure us deeper into the conflict.
The cast is remarkable. Their characters possess them. David Beck as Matt, Adriana Degirolami as Lauren, Jimmy Davis as Heinrich, and Preston Martin as Henry take the stage with honed skill and unwavering confidence.
So, who is the more loving one? Or maybe the better question is: “If equal affection cannot be” who prefers to be the more loving one? Well, that question is left open for the audience to debate. In the W. H. Auden poem, from which the play takes its title, he says he prefers to be the more loving one. At least he did when he wrote the poem. But there’s a good chance he later contradicted himself.