The neat-ish, noir-ish “Manuscript” holds its cards pretty close to its vest. That’s a good thing.
Review by Ellen Wernecke
“Three’s a crowd” may be a cliché, but it had to have come from somewhere. In “Manuscript,” You Are Here Productions’ latest play at the Studio Theatre (Theatre Row), a microcosm of shifting alliances in the face of tragedy, the odd man (or woman) out changes constantly until its brilliant end.
The play takes place in a Brooklyn brownstone where David (Greg Cayea) grew up. As we open, he and longtime best friend Chris (Duane Langley), college freshmen home for the holidays, are waiting for Chris’s girlfriend Elizabeth (Christine Donlon) to arrive so they can smoke some opium. David claims he’s nervous because she’s a published author with a book and a New York Times Magazine piece, while he’s still sweating over drafts of his unpublished novel. When she sweeps in, all bobbed hair and bare shoulders, David’s resolve drops away and he begins to fawn over her even as his friend grows visibly uncomfortable. Their steps are different now, with Chris the loyal boyfriend seemingly a step behind. Even when David leaves them alone to grab a drink, Chris’s advances towards her seem vaguely scheduled, almost stylized. Needless to say, no one gets around to smoking.
“Manuscript” is a neat pas de trois that is noir-ish in its banter and its revelations, if not a noir proper. The titular pile of paper is brought into play by Chris after he hears sirens at a neighbor’s house, a typewritten hunk which might be the last salvo of a master – or Elizabeth’s way of not defaulting on her two-book contract. (Contrary to her earlier flippant claim, “It’s a book, anybody can write one,” she is stuck on the sophomore effort.) But by then we already know that her relationship with David isn’t so innocent, that the last time they met she stole his boarding-school essay, rewrote it, and placed it in the Times. They may also have been lovers, or at least he wanted them to; she never completely fends off his advances. The threesome paces, it yells, it leaves the room, but nothing is truly decided until the last minutes of this tightly wound show.
Such is the tension successfully maintained between the three leads, that things that would appear ridiculous among other college students – Elizabeth’s penchant for words like “charlatan,” for instance – only momentarily disturb. Director Alex Lippard never lets the banter yield to audience claustrophobia in David’s bedroom. Each of the actors turns in a strong performance, but special consideration must go to Christine Donlon’s Elizabeth, the sylph in the brown dress (later, of course, she changes into a red one) who tries to fashion herself into the savior of an otherwise lost work and in the process becomes a very strange villain. At one point, Elizabeth executes a neat emotional about-face (to describe why would spoil some of the surprises of the plot), as if she’s realized she’s been putting the fatale before the femme. By then, of course, it’s too late; this exquisite little show is reaching its messy conclusion.
Through April 20, Studio Theatre, Theatre Row
410 W. 42nd St.
Shows Tues-Sat 8pm; Sun 7pm; Matinees Sat 2pm, Sun 3pm
Tickets $25, Theatermania
For more information, visit YouAreHereProductions.com