Playwright Paul David Young aspires to something pretty impressive in In the Summer Pavilion, now at 59E59 Theaters, but instead of providing a bracing new kind of drama, he only offers a rather prosaic look at "what ifs" for a trio of college pals.
Theatergoers are plunged into the play as Ben (Ryan Barry) passionately delivers an opening monologue that's a latter-day equivalent of a choral section of a Greek play, which implies that audience expectations about feeling pain and love should be eschewed, and concludes with "We'll let you go when we're ready."
When the play settles into its narrative, audiences learn that the gregarious Clarissa (Rachel Mebrow) and somewhat haughty Nabile (Meena Dimian) - along with a host of other unseen guests - have come to the summer home that Ben's known since childhood to rouse him from some unexplained depression.
And once Ben has begun to feel the buzz of some booze, he becomes amenable to a threesome with them – seemingly a common occurrence -- but after Nabile's announced the vodka's been laced with LSD, the sex never materializes.
What happens instead are a quintet of scenes in which various future outcomes for Ben's life are enumerated. In one, he and Clarissa have married, achieved incredible success, and when Nabile re-enters their lives, Ben finds himself pushing his old pal, who stills wants sex away. In another, Clarissa has married a fabulously wealthy Nabile, a marriage of convenience for both, and she draws Ben into their lives to help alleviate the emptiness he feels in a Wall Street job.
Young's variations on Ben's possible life are never without inventiveness, but it's difficult to sustain any interest in them, because the playwright establishes so little that's concrete about who the characters are in the first act.
And while director Kathy Gail MacGowan's staging has a fluid grace (and the production boasts a gorgeously evocative soundscape by Julian Evans), the appealing performers strain as they redefine the sketchily conceived characters in their many incarnations. Indeed, only Barry has any real success in continually re-shading his portrayal.
It's possible that Young intends for the play to be a cautious allegory about the dangers of sublimating or ignoring one's own homosexuality, but the work's lack of specificity makes this a difficult lesson to glean. And when the show teasingly concludes with a return to the first moments that Ben and Clarissa shared in the titular pavilion at his folks' home before an abrupt blackout, the sense of having experienced a lesson in seemingly random suppositions is rather annoying.