Poor Behavior

Theater, Comedy
 (Photograph: James Leynse)
Photograph: James LeynsePoor Behavior
 (Photograph: James Leynse)
Photograph: James LeynsePoor Behavior
 (Photograph: James Leynse)
Photograph: James LeynsePoor Behavior
 (Photograph: James Leynse)
Photograph: James LeynsePoor Behavior
 (Photograph: James Leynse)
Photograph: James LeynsePoor Behavior
 (Photograph: James Leynse)
Photograph: James LeynsePoor Behavior

Poor Behavior. Duke on 42nd Street (see Off Broadway). By Theresa Rebeck. Directed by Evan Cabnet. With ensemble cast. Running time: 2hrs 15mins. One intermission.

Poor Behavior: In brief

Two couples hash out questions of fidelity, morality and accountability in a new comedy by Theresa Rebeck (Smash), directed by Evan Cabnet for Primary Stages.

Poor Behavior: Theater review by David Cote

One of our most versatile and prolific playwrights, Theresa Rebeck has a den wall crowded with trophies: monodrama (Bad Dates), modern Greek tragedy (The Water’s Edge), backstage comedy (The Understudy), and reality-TV and literary-world satire (Our House and Seminar, respectively). Now she goes after a particularly beloved, time-tested genre: the two-marriage play. From Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? to The Realistic Joneses, writers have used clashing couples to explode the fault lines in either union. True, Poor Behavior is nowhere near as innovative as the Albee or Eno; it falls more on the Dinner with Friends side, with bitchy banter and philosophical noodling stirred in for spice and fiber.

The creative moral reasoning spews from Ian (Brian Avers), a big-mouthed, nihilist Irishman married to high-strung Maureen (Heidi Armbruster). The two are visiting friends Ella (Katie Kreisler) and Peter (Jeff Biehl) at their upstate summer home. A drunken dinner devolves into shouting about good versus evil, Maureen spies Ella and Ian holding each other, and the green-eyed monster of jealousy soon slithers into this yuppie Eden.

What follows is an often-engaging hybrid of sex farce and psychological one-upmanship, with Ian alternating in the role of innocent heel and instigator. Ella is the most grounded of the bunch, meaning Rebeck is setting her up for a fall. As for the others, Peter’s nice-guy-with-a-temper gets to lash out amusingly, and Maureen devolves into pure battiness.

Evan Cabnet’s just-arch-enough direction and a fresh, well-attuned cast send Rebeck’s zingers ricocheting around, but by the second act, you weary of these self-involved (though lively) folks. The plot keeps twisting and flipping, but the premise grows attenuated: If you cheat in your mind, does it matter if the flesh follows? I wanted to care more. In social situations, I can forgive poor behavior but not dull company.—Theater review by David Cote

THE BOTTOM LINE Rebeck is amusing but not terribly deep in her infidelity dramedy.

Follow David Cote on Twitter: @davidcote

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Average User Rating

5 / 5

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One of the best plays I've seen in years.  And no, I didn't know anyone in the cast, or have any connection with the production  (full disclosure:  I did sit next to Katie Kreisler's aunt, who praised Katie's line-memorizing abilities).  I attended on the recommendation of a friend, and because I loved Smash, also written by the playwright.

The play swept me along, right from the start, and right to the last line.  I did not take the philosophical discussions as seriously as this reviewer did (gosh, I wish Adam Feldman has reviewed this).  Rather I saw the debates, and the need to debate, as aspects of the characters' personalities--I did not feel that I needed to take sides on the question of whether there is some sort of objective "good" in the world.  I took it that the Irishman is somehow self-loathing and a narcissist and a curmudgeon and contrarian and that he acted accordingly, and unthinkingly (or maybe calculatedly) imposed his predilections at the others, predilections that are sometimes disguised by his charming Irish brogue.  The brogue covers up a multitude of sins.

The comedy was crisp and fast and funny, and the drama was soul-wrenching.  And the shock that came in Act II was real.

After the reviews came out, lots of ticket dates came up on TDF, so most New Yorkers probably have a way to see this for cheap.