Playwright Maggie Diaz Bofill’s heightened dialogue is charged with wit, insight and emotion. Ms. Bofill’s three characters are magnificently detailed with depth that realistically captures the messiness of the human condition during the course of 23 punchy short sequences.
Middle-aged Sal is a popular (“That’s because I’m excellent.”), egotistical literature professor who passionately lectures about Goethe’s Faust and has an affinity for that author’s dogmatic sensibility. He’s been married for 16 years to the morose yet feisty Pepper. When she wants to try roller blading, he cracks that she has “the coordination of a three legged platypus.”
The child of hippies, her middle name is Sandpiper. She gave up a promising career as a violinist and their marriage has become strained.
I play the violin. I was great. I toured…First chair. You didn’t know that. Nobody here knows that…I played Bach. Johann Sebastian Bach…
Oh Johann…. I had an affair with Bach for years…Till I quit.
The somewhat younger Delia is the college administrator who welcomes them to their new positions, Sal to the faculty and Pepper to the music library. Delia becomes deeply intertwined with both of them.
Bofill’s grasp of dramatic writing is commanding. She employs naturalism, direct address to the audience and fantastical flourishes that all perfectly cohere. The device of having a violinist on a slightly raised platform strategically perform onstage during the play is particularly inspired. That function is supremely filled by Melisa McGregor who also composed the piercing score that comments on the actions with dashes of Bach.
Director Shira-Lee Shalit provides breakneck pacing, swift scene transitions and compelling stage compositions that include the presence of the violinist. The visual and the verbal are in enthralling unison as Ms. Shalit achieves momentum, raucousness and sensitivity with her vigorous staging. A fully clothed sex scene is powerfully erotic as it visualizes the dynamics of the charatcers. Shalit masterfully guides the cast’s volcanic performances.
Whether rhapsodizing about popcorn toppings, arguing about ice cream flavors or delivering aria-like erudite classroom speeches that incite audience participation, the physically imposing David Zayas is colossal as Sal. Mr. Zayas’ soothing voice with its clashing cadences of the street enriches his arrogant and lusty portrayal so that every sentence he utters has subtextual weight. Embracing the character’s reprehensible traits and philosophical grandeur, Zayas delivers a vivid performance.
As the combative Pepper, Elizabeth Canavan offers a searing portrait of angst and pragmatism. Physically and emotionally coiled up, Ms. Canavan erupts with velocity as she becomes enlightened. That’s marvelously depicted as she dances and sings along to Justin Timberlake’s “Sexy Back.”
Canavan’s emphatic vocal delivery is thoroughly entrancing. Describing the differences of being a wife versus a mistress becomes a poignant rant. Her lengthy graphic recap of a seamy encounter with her husband is hilariously priceless.
“My mouth is a pungent fiesta,” remarks Florencia Lozano as Delia while she gorges on dill flavored chips and garlic hummus to quell her despair. The sleek, alluring and animated Ms. Lozano is magnetic as the dysfunctional catalyst. Delia’s contradictory professional prowess while sabotaging herself personally are realized by Lozano with mesmerizing impact.
Red walls, a white entranceway center stage and some well-chosen black furnishings are the ingenious elements of Raul Abrego’s cool scenic design that artfully serves as several locations with rapidity. When Sal and Delia go jogging through the theater and onto the stage it’s a totally believable outdoor environment.
Kia Rogers’ lighting design is a propulsive variety of congruous hues. The music and effects are perfectly balanced by sound designer Daniel Melnick.
Sal’s professorial corduroy blazer with elbow patches and his smart black suit are representative of Lara De Bruijn’s lustrous costume design. Ms. De Bruijn has Pepper wearing colorful ensembles with a hint of dowdiness and Delia in a professional wear and a slinky black dress for a romantic assignation.
“What happened to us?” says one of the characters near Devil of Choice’s rewarding conclusion. It’s a wistful coda to what has been an exhilarating experience.
Devil of Choice (through June 9, 2018)
LAByrinth Theater Company
The Cherry Lane Theatre, 38 Commerce Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 866-811-4111 or visit http://www.labtheater.org
Running time: 80 minutes with no intermission