Jessica Hecht, Richard Masur, and Candy Buckley
in Make Me
(© Doug Hamilton)
Jessica Hecht, Richard Masur, and Candy Buckley
in Make Me
(© Doug Hamilton)
Let's give Leslie Ayvazian the benefit of the doubt and assume she had a clear vision of what she wanted to get across with Make Me, a comedy about stale and stalled contemporary marriages now at the Atlantic Stage 2. While she apparently aimed to elicit a few laughs and perhaps some reluctant recognition at the lengths to which some long-time knotted (in more ways than one) couples go to keep their sex lives fresh, whatever she's attempted to convey has evaded her. The result is that six usually reliable actors struggle through 70 intermissionless minutes of humor-deprived activity that lacks any snap, crackle, or pop.

On a set that Anna Louizos has divided into three equal areas, two neighboring couples -- Connie and Eddie (played by Jessica Hecht and Anthony Arkin) and Sissy and Hank (played by Ellen Parker and J. R. Horne) -- briefly give themselves over to half-hearted sado-masochistic exercises. In between the scenes concerning the experimenting pairs, Lorraine, a practicing dominatrix (Candy Buckley) attends to an acquiescent client (Richard Masur), who -- it's eventually revealed in a stab at political satire -- is the mayor of the town where these shlemiels live and humiliate themselves in their ineptitude.

Connie and Eddie are introduced first, having just dispatched their daughters to school. That's when Connie reveals she's gussied herself up in a leather outfit (by costumer Theresa Squires) to fulfill a contract the pair made about her having the upper connubial hand during certain hours of the day. Eddie tries to go along with the agreement, but becomes agitated when he's left handcuffed to a chair while she scrams to learn the tricks of the trade from Lorraine. Meanwhile, Sissy and Hank discover the helpless Eddie, which gives Sissy some ideas about hurrying home to appropriate their clothesline for some bedroom hijinks. Once again, the game-playing comes to dispiriting naught.

Sadly, Ayvazian has failed to provide anything illuminating about the predicaments in which the three putting-upon women and the three put-upon men find themselves. Moreover, she's jimmied it so that much of the action in the three busy spaces is simultaneous, which means the actors have to time their lines with surgical precision. Yet, even though director Christian Parker and the ensemble have scrupulously seen to this dramaturgical requirement, patrons are constantly aware that the deer-facing-headlights players must listen closely to each other while filling in the moments when they're waiting to utter their next piece of (feeble) dialogue. The attention focused on the playing is no proper way to focus attention on the play -- which may be a blessing in disguise.