In Between the Sheets
nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
June 3, 2006
The gifted young actor Seth Duerr flexes some of his other artistic muscles with In Between the Sheets, an evening of three linked one-acts that he adapted from stories by Ian McEwan and that he's directed at a studio at Theatre 54. The results are mixed, with two of three pieces proving very stageworthy, and all of them featuring some fine performances.
The opening piece, Pornography, is the most inherently dramatic. It tells the story of a youngish man, something of a bottom-feeder (he works, per the title, in his brother's porn shop); he's married and he also has two girlfriends, both nurses—Pauline and Lucy. But his Casanova ways catch up with him when the women discover that he's given them both the clap and they concoct a scary and very appropriate revenge. Duerr's dramatization of the piece takes a bit longer than it should to get to the nasty, fun ending; there's probably more porn store atmosphere than is strictly necessary (and scene changes, from the store to the nurse's apartments, slow things down a bit). But Martin Ewens is perfectly sleazy and arrogant as the protagonist, with Mac Brydon offering a fine supporting turn as his brother.
The second offering is also the centerpiece of the evening, a monologue called Dead as They Come that (Duerr tells us in his nytheatre voices interview) is lifted pretty much verbatim from McEwan. While again a bit of pruning might be helpful, this is quite an entertaining piece, about a very rich, very controlling man named Lloyd who finds his ideal mate in a department store window. She is a mannequin (the program gives this away; perhaps it shouldn't), and once the initial dark joke about a man falling in love with a dummy is dispensed with, the piece probes weirder and weirder territory as Lloyd narrates the course of their strange "affair." It's often bitterly funny, tinged with a hint of satire; never pathetic, just disturbing. Timothy Smallwood plays Lloyd with aplomb, and Duerr's staging, which adds just the right amount of re-enactment to the narration, is spot-on.
Psychopolis ends the evening on a down note, unfortunately. This rambling tale of an Englishman's relocation to Los Angeles contains some unexpected biting commentary about the so-called California lifestyle, but its anecdotal style resists dramatization. It's filled with random incidents that don't add up to much; its main character, Nigel, doesn't really progress from one point to another despite having a variety of experiences with some eccentric people. These include his bombastic landlord, his kinky girlfriend, and his friend Terence, who gets a showy monologue about accidentally meeting his date's parents in a swanky restaurant that, like the rest of the piece, doesn't finally go anywhere. My impression throughout was of a story better read than watched. That said, David Garry is extremely empathetic as Nigel and Paul Rubin, Kymberly Tuttle, and Billy Whelan acquit themselves nicely as landlord, girlfriend, and buddy, respectively.
Adaptation is a tricky business; some stories lend themselves more readily to the stage than others. Duerr is to be commended for a strong effort here, bringing these perverse and wickedly funny tales to life with mostly impressive success.