2Boards at Theatre! Theater!, 3420 SE Belmont, 232-5375, Thurs-Sat 8 pm, Sun 4 pm, through Aug 12, $10
Private Eyes, newly opened by 2Boards Productions, is an odd choice for a summer show. Though the 2Boards bunch tries to infuse the project with the kind of lightheartedness befitting the season, the script itself is such a postmodern downer that all attempts to make this production fun just wind up confusing things.
The convoluted plot of Private Eyes follows a husband and wife who are costarring in a play about infidelity. The wife, Lisa (Brooke Fletcher), happens to be having an affair with their director, Adrian (Gary Norman), while husband Matthew (Andrew Dannorn) suspects he's being cuckolded but is afraid to confirm his suspicion. Matthew is in therapy, and in his sessions with his shrink (Dallas Harp), his memories and fears come to life onstage.
I wasn't particularly taken with the script, with its heavy-handed utilization of the play-within-a-therapy-session-within-a-play framework; and I was even less excited about Jessica Zodrow's direction, which seemed to insist that this play is a farce, despite all textual evidence to the contrary. The play is undeniably a dark comedy, but the 2Boards production reads the humor so broadly that it obscures any emotional effect the work might have had. Granted, some of the scenes are written to be quite outlandish but the script deals with fundamentally serious aspects of love and fidelity. The burlesque tone adopted during much of the production makes for a lighthearted and fast-paced first act, but in the second act, the tone comes in awkward conflict with the subject matter. After the overacting and mugging of the first hour and a half, it's very difficult to summon any emotional response to the unexpectedly heartfelt, earnest ending.
The acting is equally confusing: If the play is presented as slapstick, then the characters just don't make any sense. It does no disservice to the talents of the actors involved to say that the tone is so off that Matthew and Lisa may as well have multiple personality disorder. Norman is another victim of the play's curious comedic sensibility: As a snooty British director, his egomaniacal rants are entertaining, yet it's hard to take him seriously, even when serious things start happening. This is true, in fact, of the production as a whole: fun to watch on some level, but sacrificing emotional impact and complexity for a simplistic brand of humor.