The Infliction of Cruelty is a smart play about secrets, big secrets. It's a glossy, sleek affair for the first act, filled with the kind of quote-lobbing games you'd expect of Tom Stoppard. In the more mature and plot-driven second act, the characters finish the games and unleash the drama. Too elegant for the harsh honesty of Neil Labute, the play could be Pinter's take on Cruel Intentions. The erudite yet emotional writing (Andrew Unterberg and Sean McManus), the natural direction (Joel Froomkin), and the outstanding ensemble: what more does it take to get off-Broadway?
The only barrier The Infliction of Cruelty faces is that it's the quintessential highbrow play. The father's a famous composer, the mother's a famous psychiatrist, the children are extremely intelligent, handsome, and witty (and, of course, far too smart for their own good). They sit down and quote both Emily and Charles with ease, they go into the merits of free-associative therapy, and they might as well be George and Martha's children for our purposes. The deep secret that's reunited this "Pascal triangle" of siblings is that after fifteen years, they're finally ready to stop punishing their father for having an affair with his sister-in-law. Well, almost. The eldest (and brooding-est), Thomas, is having second thoughts, much to the chagrin of the well-rounded, charming Jonathan, and their sister, Prussia. As for Benjamin, the youngest: he doesn't know yet -- but his girlfriend Zoe just overheard the truth, so he's bound to find out about the infidelity and the horribly subtle punishment by Act II.
There's a lot of character development and exposition, but it's so damn clever that it just rolls into the silver-tongued pacing. And yes, while everybody's smart, they're not smug: Holter Graham, for instance, is one of the most likeable and natural actors I've seen. The whole cast's chemistry is superb: it's as easy to believe their familiarity as it is to enjoy it. Normally, I'd make a bad pun here that worked the title into my tag-line, but the play is verbal enough without me adding any wordplay. Go see The Infliction of Cruelty. It's a great play.
The Hypothetical Theater @ The 14th Street Y
Tickets (212-279-4200): $18.00
9/10 @ 10:30; 9/12 @ 4:30 and 9:30