Lives are destroyed in Theresa Rebeck's showbiz satire.
Networking in New York proves to be a ruinous affair in The Scene, Theresa Rebeck's satirical comedy now playing at the Writers' Theatre. The play begins at a showbiz party at an impossibly cool Manhattan loft, where Charlie (Mark L. Montgomery) has come to drag himself back into the good graces of his former associates. He's brought his best friend, Lewis (La Shawn Banks), as moral support, but before they can make headway, they meet Clea (Deanna Myers).
Clea is vacuous, cruel, and overconfident, but she looks excellent in a little black dress and skyscraper heels, and that's enough, it seems, to pull the men into her orbit. Once they're in, they can't get out: She is a master manipulator, somehow leaving every conversation with exactly what she wants, finding a trumped-up moral high ground in every mundane disagreement.
Despite an initial loathing, Charlie and Clea have parallel personalities — and matching vocal tics. He despises her vocal fry and up-talk, but when he growls his endless rhetorical questions, it's clear they're a perfect match. Clea castigates Charlie for his judgmental passive-aggression, even while doing just that. It's no surprise, then, that these two nitwits are sleeping together by the end of Act 1.
Their messy affair flits between loft parties and luxury condos (Brian Sidney Bembridge's steel-and-glass set captures the urban sheen of four Manhattan homes), leaving chaos in its wake — mostly for Charlie, who loses his marriage, his home, and his shot at a comeback in short order, hoist with the petard of his own horniness.
Montgomery mines Charlie's meltdown for all it's worth, lending conviction to Charlie's trite rants, and even dredging up a shred of humanity here and there. His costar Myers seems to revel in Clea's amorality — the more she connives and complains, the more fun Myers is to watch. Charin Alvarez elicits sympathy and laughter as Charlie's wife, Stella, a type A television executive who excels at a job she despises. Banks isn't given as much to work with as the rest of the cast — Lewis serves primarily to advise and console — but he is warm and charismatic.
Theresa Rebeck's dialogue is sharp with plenty of laughs, and Kimberly Senior's direction is tight, but the play doesn't quite hold up to examination. Too much of the plot seems to be nothing more than device: Clea is sleeping her way to the top, sure, but there's no discernible reason for her to pursue or stay with Charlie, a broke has-been with no connections, who is utterly unconcerned with Clea's satisfaction (in life and in their bedroom). And once the vagaries of Stella's adoption plans are fleshed out in Act 2, they simply defy logic.
Most fatally, the play is wholly predictable. The beats of love and betrayal are well-worn territory, complete with an implausible fairytale ending for the long-suffering Stella. For a play that is so pointedly modern, the ending is awfully retrograde: The faithless are punished, goodness is rewarded, and the trickster god escapes to wreak havoc elsewhere.