By Richard Ades
Local playwright Bill Cook has been known for plays about men in nightmarish situations.
In two of his previous works (Love in an Age of Clamor and The Promised Land), the nightmare was mainly financial in nature, but a woman also played a role. It seems that in Cook’s world, as in real life, romantic relationships can be both complicated and precarious.
In his new play, Devotion, those relationships move to center stage. Set in New York City, it’s about Tricia (Beth Josephsen), a struggling artist with two men in her life: current boyfriend James (James Harper), a video artist; and former boyfriend Alex (Danny Turek), an actor.
As the play begins, both James and Alex are sharing Tricia’s loft, but Alex keeps promising to move out as soon as he finds a new place. This irks James, who suspects Alex is biding his time while he looks for ways to con his way back into Tricia’s good graces. And his distrust seems justified, especially after Alex claims he’s met an art buyer who can help boost Tricia’s career.
Who will end up with Tricia? It’s hard to feel we have a horse in this race, as we don’t particularly like any of the characters. However, we may well recognize them, as Cook injects their interchanges with verbal slings and arrows that many will find wincingly familiar. Director Pamela Hill builds on the script’s strengths by encouraging the actors to dive headfirst into their characters.
On opening night, Harper gave the most understated performance as James—to the extent that, at times, it seemed he had yet to fully invest in the character. Turek started out with the opposite problem, overplaying his first scene. Overall, though, he gave a spirited and entertaining interpretation of the glib, conniving Alex.
Even more impressive is Josephsen’s performance, despite an occasional tendency to mumble her lines. Whether Tricia is keeping Alex’s advances in check or greeting James’s pronouncements with maternal disapproval, she creates a convincing portrayal of a woman who likes to be in control.
Though Devotion differs from Cook’s earlier works in some ways—for example, the tone is naturalistic rather than surreal—it retains the previous plays’ cinematically short scenes. This means the action has to stop every few minutes while stagehands adjust Peter Pauze’s appropriately realistic scenery. The pauses would be more of a distraction if the interludes weren’t accompanied by well-chosen mood music.
Another, more unfortunate, way in which Devotion resembles other Cook plays I’ve seen is that its ending doesn’t quite work. At least, it doesn’t quite work for me. At a certain point, two of the three characters begin acting in ways that make no psychological sense. I can hazard a guess as to why Cook has them behave this way, but sorry, I’m just not buying it.
Until the final scene, however, Devotion is a low-key but interesting take on the Battle Between the Sexes.
A&B Theatricals will present Devotion through Nov. 14 at MadLab Theatre, 227 N. Third St., Columbus. Show times are 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday. Running time: 1 hour, 35 minutes (including intermission). Tickets are $15, $12 for students and seniors. 614-441-2929 or ab-theatrical.com.