A new play from Hamish Linklater examines neighborly niceties and what remains unsaid.
This new play by Hamish Linklater (The Vandal) opens on an extended moment of domestic miscommunication. Anne (Kendra Thulin) is offstage, droning on to her husband about the TV coverage of a natural disaster. Only John (Peter Moore) isn’t in the living room like his wife thinks; he’s outside on their balcony, having a cigarette and, perhaps inadvertently, observing a fraught moment between their neighbors across the street. When John comes back in, Anne insists she thought she’d heard him responding to her monologue from the other room.
It’s a witty setup, in its way, for Linklater’s treatise that not everything need be fully shared in a relationship. John is convinced the brief, wordless interaction he’s seen between neighbors Jonathan (Brad Akin) and Susie (Julia Siple) is proof they’re breaking up.
It’s soon revealed that Anne and John have a friends-of-friends connection to the couple across the street, and even met them at a wedding years earlier; since becoming their neighbors, they’ve yet to interact with the other couple apart from a note John left in the mailbox offering neighborly help during a difficult time. John never got a response, but suddenly this morning, Jonathan is at the door, looking for a friendly ear.
The play takes place in real time, and it’s the slow, awkward reveal of exactly how much contact each character has previously had with the others and who knows it that brings the action to a boil in Joanie Schultz’s well-tuned world premiere. Suffice it to say that Anne and John have kept things from each other that are implied by the title, and Jonathan manages to make himself the confidant on both sides.
The playwright’s view of getting involved in neighbors’ business remains a bit obscured; Jonathan comes across the street looking for someone to talk to, but ultimately begrudges his neighbors’ interest as prurient. As a sharply structured, self-contained domestic puzzle box, though, The Cheats remains faithful.
Steep Theatre. By Hamish Linklater. Directed by Joanie Schultz. With Kendra Thulin, Peter Moore, Brad Akin, Julia Siple. Running time: 1hr 30mins; no intermission.