Set in a small Midwestern college town, the play though well written does not seem real. Had this ménage-a-trois been located in NYC’s Greenwich Village or Chelsea, one wouldn’t find it so implausible. Additional items also damage credibility. Although it is not clear in the play, the script states that the three live in faculty housing at a small all women’s college. More and more strange.
Julian, an English professor and failed writer, and Agnes, a magazine editor, live together with Sally, an elementary school teacher. Sally’s daughter Reggie who she gave up to her now ex-husband when she moved in with them ten years before now lives in the college dormitory though she is bored by her studies. Reggie’s blue collar boyfriend Dale, a high school dropout, begins taking lessons from Sally to obtain a GED. Things begin to go wrong when Julian is accused of sexual harassment from a female colleague and Dale comes on to Sally. To complicate things further, Agnes is offered her dream job but it means moving to New York City. Then it transpires that the three had to move away from NYC for a similar incident there a decade before in Julian’s past. It is hard to believe that small town America is so forgiving.
While Harms has a fine ear for dialogue, the play moves by revelation and incident. Consequently, it plays like a sophisticated soap opera as every scene brings a new wrinkle not previously suggested. Drew Foster’s direction is smooth and polished but he can’t prevent the play’s plot from having too many incidents that aren’t foreshadowed. Steven Hauck, Elizabeth Rich and Amy Bodnar are charming in a worldly, cultivated way. However, we learn so little about each of them other than how events affect them that they seem one-dimensional. Important facts are left out: what is the rooming situation, are Julian and Agnes married, etc.? The sexual tension is clearly defined: dancing seems to be foreplay to sex. But one can’t live on love alone.
In the best written role, Brandon Espinoza as the young stud who is satisfied with his dead-end job as a night porter is excellent. Kerry Warren does what she can with the flatly written role of Reggie, Sally’s daughter, since all we learn about her is that she bored with her studies and most of the men she meets.
Deb O’s unit set works for all of the play’s several scenes but is distractingly wall-papered with manuscript pages or possibly student assignments that are intended as an unexplained metaphor. (No one in the play actually seems to have time to mark any papers with all of the emotional angst going on, nor are they as intellectual as the walls would suggest.) Gregory Gale’s contemporary costumes have the lived in look of real clothing off of the rack. The original piano music by Erik T. Lawson gives the play a worldly air that is partly missing from the script. The lighting by Paul Miller & Joe Beumer is suitable but never suggests the cozy, warm evenings at home that theplay depicts in most of its scenes.
David Harms’ What We Wanted suggests that we never know what we have until we lose it. However, the melodramatic plot devices damage our belief in the situation and the setting. Don’t blame the actors who do their utmost to make their hedonistic characters real.
What We Wanted (through January 15, 2016)
Skyhook Productions with Divino Productions
The Clurman Theatre, 410 W. 42nd Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, call at 212-239-6200 or visit http://www.Telecharge.com
Running time: one hour and 50 minutes with no intermission