Reviewed by Amanda Halkiotis
Straight men who truly value spending time with each other while talking on a couch may cause speculation in our society -- take, for example, the so-called subtext of the Sesame Street duo Bert and Ernie. In Michael Rubenfeld’s new play Spain, boundaries are pushed, if not crossed, between two male friends. Jared’s (Todd D’Amour) girlfriend Beth (Esther Barlow) is away in Italy studying art, so he has been spending most of his free time with best bud Eric (Rubenfeld). Together, they discuss the finer points of film editing and the graphic points of lovemaking. Every day, they exchange the same witty banter, coy smiles, and playful touches on the shoulder or leg. These moments imply something more than friendship, and just as quickly dismiss the drunken confessions and hugs goodbye. They need companionship, but they also need to be straight.
Their feelings for each other alternate between blaringly obvious or painfully repressed, making these ill-composed scenes mimic two toddlers on a playdate gone bad. Insecure, attention-starved Jared clings to obnoxious, authoritative Eric, scuttling back to him for advice at every crisis. Other than this thread of dependency there is no chemistry and very little backstory to make their pairing plausible. Equally implausible is the circumstance of “having no one else.” No mutual friends are mentioned, no alternate social circles. Without this context the audience doesn’t have much to go by to determine if their friendship is in fact “normal.” These characters would need to be seen in another setting first. Perhaps they’re just bipolar, or bisexual, or never had many friends growing up, or knew people growing up who acted too friendly. In a cast of three with a nameless setting, it’s hard to say.
When Beth enters the dynamic in the second scene, she becomes the accused cause of Eric’s and Jared’s sexual tension. The uninvolved third party (and token pesky girlfriend) makes for an easy target, after all. Sincere concerns for quality time with her boyfriend after a long separation appear to Eric as jealous behavior or crazed possessiveness. He feels cornered and recoils to Jared’s apartment, so that every scene is a quick-change of either something happening between Beth and Eric or Eric retelling to Jared what happened between him and Beth. This makes for poorly-constructed storytelling, and the déjà vu factor prevents any plot progression. Then again, in a play that tries to salvage relationships with the offer of sex in the workplace or by going threesies on some ecstasy, how much of a practical conclusion can one expect?
The lack of eye contact between the characters and constant sideways blocking makes Shana Gold’s directing look as amateur as the script sounds. The pedestrian ensembles (uninspired combinations of jeans and cotton tees) is yet another miss in terms of this play’s accomplishments. The production, like the script, lacks a mature eye to provide foresight and depth, and without it the execution stands limp. As for the subtitles explaining a new location with each scene change, they’re more distracting than helpful. Perhaps with more introspection and a more articulate creative force this piece would have been a thought-provoking social commentary. Instead, Spain leaves much to be desired and little to be expected.