nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
September 13, 2008
Nicky Silver's Three Changes begins with Maura Tierney, who plays a woman named Laurel, and Dylan McDermott, who plays her husband Nate, telling us about how Nate's brother Hal (Scott Cohen) reappeared after a couple of decades away from the family. "Telling us" is accurate here: I don't know exactly who Laurel and Nate think we are (or where we are), but they talk to us all the time. Eventually Hal talks to us a little bit, too; as does Steffi (Aya Cash), Nate's very young girlfriend—in fact she not only talks to us but observes action involving other characters right along with us, offering pithy commentary. (This completely confused the lady seated behind me, who wondered quite reasonably how Steffi could know what was happening in a scene that she wasn't in.)
Oh, these wacky postmodern playwrights, messing with the audience's brain!
Indeed, Three Changes amounts to little more than a, pardon me, mind-fuck: the press release says "Hal may have had success, but human connection is all that matters, and he intends to make connections—no matter who pays the price." But nothing that actually happens on stage, or that the actor/characters confide in us during their numerous chit-chats across the footlights, has much to do with making connections.
What happens is this: Hal, a successful TV writer who apparently spent every cent he had on drugs and sex, has dropped in on his younger bro Nate, whom he has not seen since he left home at the age of 16. (Both men are in their early 40s now.) Nate and Laurel agree to let Hal spend the night, then to move in while he works on a novel, then to let him move his boyfriend Gordon in as well. Gordon is a 19-year-old homeless kid whom Hal had heretofore been paying for sex on the street.
Is Hal slowly taking over? I won't tell you, but as the plot grows ever more insidious, the only connecting that's going on in it is decidedly inhuman and, worse, inhumane. Three Changes is a repulsive drama about repulsive people doing repulsive things; it may be somehow reflective of something rotten in American society right now, but it's so lacking in anything like a moral compass that it's hard to make sense of its message or meaning.
And it's so deficient in clear storytelling—I know, exposition and conventional stagecraft are so un-hip!—that it's even a little bit hard to follow. It was impossible for me to summon up any empathy or sympathy or even interest in the characters or their circumstances.
Wilson Milam's production looks fine, I guess, but it moves really slowly; there is, in particular, a scene between Hal and Nate in Act II that feels mercilessly long. None of the actors is able to make much sense of their characters, but Brian J. Smith, so excellent in Good Boys and True and Come Back, Little Sheba last season, takes honors as most annoying person on stage (possibly on any stage in NYC, in fact; his Gordon is just relentlessly repugnant).
Three Changes (and what does that title mean, by the way?) is the kind of play that I dislike most—a mean-spirited squandering of talent and time that achieves nothing other than illumination of the basest qualities of mankind. If I want to know how lousy people are, I'll watch the news, thank you very much. Let's have some drama that emboldens, enlightens, and enlarges!