What You Get and What You Expect
If the plot to build on the moon sounds far fetched to you, it also seems that way to the characters. They spend little time focusing on the project, concentrating instead on hashing out who is sleeping with whom, and whether or not their sex lives and relationships mean anything (FYI: they don't).
The play, translated by Hal J. Witt, is full of clichés that tend to miss the mark, leaving an empty core where an emotional center is supposed to be. The protagonist is Phillipe, an architect who takes himself and his work very seriously. Throughout the play, it is unclear whether the boring Phillipe suffers from being underwritten by playwright Jean-Marie Besset, or whether the pizzazz-lacking Stephen Caffrey is to blame for the Phillipe's insufferable dullness.
In any event, Phillipe and his wife Nathalie (Kathryn Meisle) have recently returned to Paris after spending ten years in Africa. Exactly what they did there is never fully explained (many of the subplots are left in the air), but whatever it was transformed Phillipe from a precocious, always-on-the-move upstart to full-on green-and-brown suited Euro-yuppie.
On the downside, their sojourn abroad meant the couple is now surprisingly naïve to the ways of getting ahead in the world of Parisian architectural politics. The two are constantly being astonished at the cowardice and deceit emanating from the bureaucrats they encounter while trying to turn Phillipe's monument design into a winner. In a candid moment, Nathalie reveals to Phillipe that, "In Paris, everyone is knee deep in politics."
As chance would have it, an old friend of Phillipe's is a bit player on the selection committee that decides the three finalists for the moon monument. However, the friend, Pericles (T. Scott Cunningham) also carries a torch for Phillipe. It seems, though again it's not fully explained, that in high school Phillipe led Pericles on by changing clothes in front of open doorways Pericles was known to walk by.
Having never gotten over his boyhood crush, Pericles invites Phillipe over to the apartment he shares with Neil, an uber-Euro-yuppie whom Pericles sleeps and lives with whenever he is in Paris. Neil, played with wry wit and predatory elegance by Daniel Gerroll, (the one shining star in the otherwise uninspired cast) seems to be the only one in the play who is enjoying himself.
When the doorbell rings at the appropriate time, Pericles flees into the back room and Neil is left to talk with Nathalie, who has come in place of Phillipe who refuses to show up, we are told, because he doesn't want to influence the selection committee's decision. After heavy flirting with Nathalie, flashes of Neil's jaded personality come out. The problem is that while Neil is the most interesting character, we never really know anything about him.
Nathalie and Neil end up rolling in the hay, as do Pericles and Phillipe. A second couple made up of minor characters also frolic carnally. Robert (played by the usually charismatic Peter Jacobson) is a conniving little architect who is competing with Phillipe in the moon-building contest. As a foil to Phillipe's rigid sense of honor, Robert does everything to get a leg up in the competition, including sleeping with, or rather being consumed by, Louise (Pamela Payton-Wright), an unscrupulous, high-level European bureaucrat who serves on the selection committee.
The play muddles along to an unsurprising conclusion involving the revelation that Robert is, to no one's surprise, capable of plagerism. And then there is a show down between Nathalie and Phillipe, whose purpose seems to be to reveal that the unexamined Euro-Yupi life is really not what it's cracked up to be. By play's end, the audience should be more worried about the state of contemporary French drama than with the trite characters in this play.
Unsurprisingly, all the couples come out with some amazingly canned lines that stretch the credibility of the world created on the stage. One particular exchange between Nathalie and Neil typifies the misguided metaphor of the moon-monument (and, for that matter, the overall play): "They're such an easy target, those who reach for the moon," and then, "And (who) believe it's there for the taking."
There are several original moments, but even those fall far short of having real emotional impact. In one monologue, Pericles actually references the Nazi concentration camps to explain how a man's world revolves around his penis. Even in the most emaciated of people, Pericles says, the penis remains its normal size. For some bizarre reason, this "pillow-talk" actually works on Phillipe. But then again, only moment earlier, Pericles reveals to Phillipe that he is dying of AIDS--another bit of information that generally isn't part of a pick-up line.
Another drawback of the play is that it suffers from European humor, which will likely have a hard time finding a home with American audiences. Neil makes jokes about the boring British and the snooty Parisians. For instance, when Phillipe remarks that Parisians are the only people who refer to anybody else as being from the "provinces", Neil quips back, "Because Paris is the only city in the world where people know what they're talking about." Right.