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Ray Liotta and Frank Langella in Match
(Photo © Joan Marcus)
"I love my life. I regret my life. After a while the lines blur and all it is is my life." So says Tobi, the central character in Stephen Belber's gripping comic drama Match. Played by the excellent Frank Langella, Tobi is a choreographer and dance instructor at Juilliard. Now in his 60s, he lives alone in a cluttered apartment in Inwood. As the play progresses, decisions that he made in the past have repercussions in the present. Tobi is forced to consider that age-old question, "If I had to do it all again, would I make different choices?"

The catalyst for his reflections is the arrival of Lisa (Jane Adams) and her husband Mike (Ray Liotta). Lisa is purportedly conducting research for a dissertation on choreography and dance in America. Tobi regales his guests with history, gossip, and tales of the pansexual dance community of the 1950s and '60s. The character is flamboyant and likeable, and Langella portrays him masterfully; his every gesture and facial expression is perfectly timed and brings about gales of laughter from the audience.

However, it soon becomes clear that the purpose of Lisa and Mike's visit is not what it initially appears. Mike wants some very specific information from Tobi and is willing to go quite far to get it. While not exactly playing against type, film star Liotta acquits himself quite well in his Broadway debut; he is brooding and menacing with an undercurrent of anger that threatens to erupt at any moment. That unpredictability adds tension to Mike's interactions with Tobi and Jane. The performance is far from one-note, however: Liotta also captures the wounded, petulant child within Mike and is responsible for some of the funniest moments in the play.

Adams rounds out the cast with a portrayal that's subtle but effective. There's a scene early in the second act between Tobi and Lisa that, in the hands of two lesser actors, would seem either creepy or farcical. While there are elements of both in the dialogue, the scene is ultimately moving and powerful due to the actors' restraint and, in particular, Adams's making it clear that there is a vivid emotional life beneath her character's brittle exterior.

Tightly directed by Nicholas Martin, the production is engaging throughout. The pacing is flawless and the buildups to the play's major revelations are filled with suspense and drama. James Noone's set design perfectly captures the look of Tobi's self-described "dingy little abode" with posters, books, and an eclectic assortment of furniture and sundry items cluttering the stage. Brian MacDevitt's lighting subtly suggests the different times of the day during which the two acts take place. My only complaint on the technical end is the placement of an area mic at the downstage-right corner of the stage; whenever one of the actors sat in a chair at that location, his or her voice boomed through the sound system, thereby ruining whatever verisimilitude had previously been established.

But this is a fairly minor complaint to make about what is otherwise an excellent production. Belber builds on the promise he demonstrated in previous playwriting efforts such as Tape and The Death of Frank. His Broadway debut work is not as dark as either of those previous plays but it retains a disturbing quality that's in keeping with the style he's established. Belber has an ear for language and his dialogue and character interactions are consistently believable. While he works with familiar themes and plot devices, he also throws in numerous twists and turns that will keep you guessing about the outcome of Match right up to the final curtain.

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