A triptych is a hinged, three panel writing tablet that usually depicts a religious story in painting. The way that playwright Richard Willett uses it is as a demonstration in triplicity--or is that a triple-entendre? Whichever it may be, it comes in threes, but unfortunately, there isn't always strength in numbers.
Triptych opens with the poorly recorded sound of copulation. When the lights come up, two gay men are at the conclusion of disappointing sex--disappointing, at least, for one of them. Carey (Bill Dobbins) is extremely satisfied, not with his partner Bernard (Charles Loffredo), but rather with his own personal conquest of tantric sex. Bernard feels that he and Carey are not on the same page and should spend some time apart, but Carey thinks that Bernard is actually taking exception to his new-found bi-sexuality. While Carey goes off to pursue women, Bernard begins to explore the more extreme parts of himself. It is the dichotomy of their personal journeys that ultimately bring them back to one another.
Carey is a writer working on a story about the infamous "posture photos" taken from the 1930s through 1960s at predominantly Ivy League universities. The voice-overs and sound cues before every scene are taken from his pocket recorder (hence the poor quality). The posture photos were a campaign headed by William Sheldon to correct poor posture, but they truly smacked of weeding out the weak and ugly. The practice traumatized thousands of students until it was ended in the 1960s. "Each student was photographed in a triptych," announces a voice-over. "How you were built became your destiny." This point in history proves to be the genesis of the present day characters' dysfunctional sex lives.
The play is set in three different eras. The first is the present day, which has its own tri-lateral division: the sexual explorations of Carey and Bernard, and Carey's present-day family. The second time frame is Carey's family life when he was young, immediately after the apparent suicide of his older brother Keith. The third piece of the triptych tells the story of Debbie and Helen (played effectively by Kate Downing and Rebekka Grella), two sisters attending Radcliffe in 1935, who experience tragedy related to the posture photos. These three worlds are intermingled for a Robert Altman-like effect based on the connectivity of people's lives. It is a very ambitious playwriting move, accomplished with only mild success.
The main problem is that there is very little nuance in any of the performances. We are often told who the characters are and what they are feeling, but the script never gives the actors the opportunity to be believable. For instance, Carey's mother Heather (Heather Grayson), initially comes across as weak when she abandons him, but when Carey locates her as an adult, she is remorseless and unsympathetic. The part of Carey's grandfather Chester (Jonathan Fluck)--whose traumatic experience with the posture photos caused him to develop a malady that compels him to do a Yosemite Sam impression--is even more of an enigma. Carey's ex Bernard turns into a housewife in drag (apparently the feminine side he always wanted to explore) with his new beau Dennis (Randy Ladner). Carey himself gets involved with Rosemary (Patricia Randell, in the strongest performance of the evening), a feminist who comes out with zingers such as "sex with you is like talking." In the end, though, Carey and Bernard long for one another.
Director Eliza Beckwith tries to keep pace with the constant scene/era changes, but could have taken the minimalism a step further. At nearly two-and-a-half hours, the play is about 45 minutes too long, and would benefit from some cutting (do we really need four scenes of Bernard and Dennis playing house?). Too much happens to the characters that is never justified either contextually or through performance. There was certainly enough laughter throughout, with the drag jokes going over particularly well, but when a third of the house did not return after intermission, I didn't take it as a good sign.