The Conjugality Test
nytheatre.com review by Michael Criscuolo
July 15, 2007
Michael Lazan's new drama, The Conjugality Test, is getting a strong production at this year's Midtown International Theatre Festival. Under David Gautschy's solid direction, and led by an all-around solid cast, this story of an Upper West Side family torn asunder by deceit and doubt is sure to be one of the festival's highlights.
David, a 50-year-old insurance man, is approached in a bar by Bernice, a significantly younger African American woman. At first, David is skeptical about her attempted pickup, thinking that maybe he's being punk'd, so to speak. It turns out Bernice has, indeed, been hired by an anonymous client to test David's fidelity. When he returns home later, David sets out to discover who tried to trap him: Debs, his longtime partner of almost 30 years; Baba, their morose 16-year-old Goth daughter; or Louis, David's father, who lives with them.
The Conjugality Test's inciting incident gives way to deeper thoughts as Lazan uses it to examine the strength (and practicality) of long-term romantic bonds, and humanity's desire for change and connection. David and Debs never formally married because of their mutual belief that "no one loves their spouse forever," so they opted not to put that pressure on their union. But, as David delves deeper into his investigation, he and Debs both wonder if their life together couldn't use a good shaking up.
Lazan also uses recurring motifs of leaving home and technology to great effect: everyone one pines to go somewhere else, either figuratively or literally; and there isn't a scene where someone isn't messing with a laptop, Blackberry, remote control, or some other device while trying to connect with (or disconnect from) someone else.
As for Bernice, she makes another few appearances, and everyone eventually finds out who hired her. But, I'll leave it for audiences to find out more about that on their own.
Gautschy guides The Conjugality Test with a confident hand, letting the script's inherent themes emerge on their own without spelling them out for the audience. Greg Thornton and Jacqueline Sydney are convincing as David and Debs, respectively. One easily believes they've been a couple for most of their lives. Shaun Bennet Wilson is alluring and sensual as Bernice. But, it's Warren Katz and Amanda Sayle who steal the show as Louis and Baba, respectively. Sayle makes mopey angst funnier than it ought to be. Katz's salty sense of humor serves Louis well, and is also a strong counterpoint to a particularly touching eleventh-hour proposition Louis lays on Baba late in the play.
Lazan could stand to tighten up his play in certain places—e.g., David figuring out he's being set up is a little too pat and convenient—but those pesky contrivances give way to some very interesting stuff later on. The Conjugality Test is a sincere and thought-provoking look at a family on the verge of deciding whether or not to stay with the comfort and safety of what they have or risk it all for something new (and potentially better). This production is an all-around strong outing for a group of artists I look forward to seeing more from in the future.