And then in the second scene, Beth, Dave’s graduate assistant/secretary, arrives to pay Melissa a visit. Played by the sparking Donze, Beth is as beautiful as Melissa but younger, nubile, inquisitive, outspoken, direct – and outrageous. Apparently, having fallen in love with Dave’s course on “Films of the Thirties,” she has now fallen in love with him. Beth has decided she wants to marry Dave soon and sees Melissa as her competition. Barging into Melissa’s apartment, she tells her why she has come, describes her life with Dave in New Jersey, asks for a drink, requests permission to try on Melissa’s dresses and generally behaves like a pushy millennial. Ultimately, she asks Melissa to make up her mind if she is serious about Dave or not. But does Dave know she has made this visit? While Donze is on stage the play seems bubbly, clever and fresh. We keep waiting for her second appearance, but, alas, the playwright has not given her one. And then we go back to dull and boring Melissa and Dave.
The final scene has a clever notion: Melissa claims to be writing a screenplay and wants Dave’s advice and he is intrigued as it sounds more and more like the films he teaches. The lights become film noirish, and she and he take on the roles of thirties and forties Hollywood stars, Rosalind Russell, Myrna Loy, Claudette Colbert, Cary Grant, Henry Fonda, Fred MacMurray. In other hands, this scene might have been quite witty; however, as it is all so literal to what we already know, it falls rather flat.
The problem is that under Albert Bonilla’s stolid and matter-of-fact direction, Elizabeth Ingham and Zack Calhoon’s characters never come alive. Just trading quips is not a sophisticated style and as all of their lines are said the same way without variety, it becomes tiresome quite soon. While Donze continually surprises us as Beth, Melissa and Dave remain the same throughout. And the production design doesn’t help much. While the couple discusses what good taste Melissa has in buying Dave’s shirts, Viviane Galloway’s costumes are extremely conservative and colorless, no proof of any special taste whatever.
The same could be said of the living room of Melissa’s apartment where the entire play takes place. Sheryl Liu has color coordinated everything in beige, brown and white, but there are no pictures on the walls or art work of any kind. Someone as upscale as Melissa would have acquired some decorations by now. Except for the attempt at film noir lighting which doesn’t really go with the romantic comedy scene played by Melissa and Dave at the end, Pamela Kupper’s lighting offers nothing in the way of mood. While sound designer Nick Simone includes appropriate cocktail music before each scene, the songs are more romantic and atmospheric than anything that happens in the dialogue.
The biggest mistake is the title which is entirely a misnomer. With two women in love with one man what we have here is a triangle. If there is a special meaning to “trapezoid” which fits this play, it is never explained, never referred to. One gets the feeling that the author fancies himself a scholar of Hollywood romantic comedies of the thirties, the sort of movie that would have teamed William Powell and Myrna Loy or Katherine Hepburn and Cary Grant. Unfortunately, Romantic Trapezoid which starts with an interesting premise does not live up to its antecedents or possibilities. The special quality that those movies had going for them were bigger than life and charming personalities played by glamorous stars and witty one-liners which you wish you had said, neither of which this play has to offer.
Romantic Trapezoid (through November 25, 2017)
Rachel Reiner Productions LLC
Lion Theatre, 410 W. 42nd Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 212-239-6200 or visit http://www.telecharge.com
Running time: 90 minutes without an intermission