Mark Pinter and Brad Fraizer in Three on a Couch
(© Richard Termine)
Mark Pinter and Brad Fraizer in Three on a Couch
(© Richard Termine)
The grass is apparently always greener. Models want to act, actors want to direct, and chemists want to write plays. How else to explain the late-career change of Carl Djerassi, the much-lauded scientist who helped invent "the pill," and who has spent the last decade churning out novels and plays, including the stylistically intriguing Three on a Couch, currently making its domestic debut at the SoHo Playhouse.

The autobiographically themed work focuses on the consuming desire of a novelist (animated with TV announcer's tones by soap opera veteran Mark Pinter) to escape the professional box into which he has been painted. His plan is to fake suicide and publish a radically different sort of book under a nom de plume. As schemes go, it's not terribly sophisticated.

Neither is the play, but Djerassi and his director Elena Araoz lend the evening a surprisingly successful stylistic gloss. The novelist and his wife (the well modulated Lori Funk) act in high film noir fashion, chewing their dialogue and pausing for musical stings. Meanwhile, Brad Fraizer plays their therapist as a physical clown, pratfalls and all. The show's strongest moments are those when Fraizer is forced to dexterously negotiate the tight confines of his office, as when he rotates around a rather chintzy stool, seemingly unable to touch the floor during a session.

These bold, complementary flourishes provide absurd entertainment even as the approach washes out any interest in the plot. Indeed, while the evening may be intended as a potshot at psychoanalysis, or a scream of frustration in response to insistent pigeonholing, it works best as a formal exercise. Ultimately, the production doesn't build on any of the promising physical rules it starts to establish, and expectations are cavalierly detonated as the play continues its search for an identity.