Even though her most famous book, The Group had yet to be written and her famous libel case involving the vicious Lillian Hellman wasn’t even a glint in the writer’s venomous pen, Mary McCarthy had already achieved literary stardom. Hannah Arendt was a leading European-American historian and philosopher and Paul de Man was soon to be an important literary critic and academic.
As Deconstruction opens it is June 1949. Mary McCarthy (Fleur Alys Dobbins) has picked up handsome Paul De Man (Jed Peterson) from his menial job at a Manhattan bookstore and invited him up to her Rhode Island farm. They dance about—physically and verbally—until the mutual seduction is a fait accompli. She is motivated by hormones (and a boring marriage to Bowden Broadwater) and he by wanting an entrée into academia (and wanting to stay away from a failing marriage).
Enter a very sour Hannah Arendt (Karoline Fischer) who smells a rat in de Man. Her instincts prove substantiated in the play as Arendt’s subsequent investigations prove de Man to be a serial philanderer in addition to being a Nazi collaborator during World War II —a fact he somehow never brought up as he bedazzled, seduced and used a bewitched McCarthy.
McCarthy learns her lesson by the penultimate scene, jilted by the heel de Man. She is left to lick her wounds with the equally shaken Arendt as they share a Thanksgiving dinner in McCarthy’s Greenwich Village apartment, delighting in the glow of their friendship.
The acting isn’t detailed or expansive enough to make Leaf’s words come alive or give the slightest notion of the intelligence of these three. Ms. Dobbins’ McCarthy is far too girlish. Yes, the playwright’s point is to show how even an intellectual can be seduced by a good-looking person, but she never boils over. The closest to anger she achieves is petulance.
Ms. Fisher, for some reason—directorial or personal choice?—spoke her lines as if in a catatonic state. A terrible, curly black wig doesn’t help matters. (There are many photos of Arendt in the forties and she never looked like this.)
Mr. Peterson does well as the oily, snake charmer, de Man, looking particularly well in Jeannipher Pacheco’s period costumes. Her costumes for Arendt are far too dreary, but those for McCarthy add some color to the proceedings.
Shannon Kavanagh uses the expansive, flexible space of the Church’s Grand Hall to indicate the turmoil all the characters were going through. Books are strewn all over the period perfect furniture. This is a terrific performing space with many possibilities. Michael Abrams’ lighting design helps keep the drama in focus.
Peter Dobbins, the director, keeps the action in small, tight groupings even though the space is generously appointed. This helps the actors, all talented in their own ways, but needing time to develop in their roles.
Deconstruction (through March 25, 2017)
Storm Theatre Company in association with Christopher Ekstrom Productions
Theatre at Grand Hall (St. Mary’s Parish), 440 Grand Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 212-868-4444 or visit http://www.SmartTix.com
Running time: 80 minutes with no intermission