EmptyPlaywrights Horizons, New York (Through Sept. 28).
"Three Changes" is a mild-mannered title for the brutality that surfaces in Nicky Silver's unsettling but finally unsatisfying new play, which opened Monday night at Playwrights Horizons with stars Scott Cohen, Dylan McDermott and Maura Tierney.
Set in an Upper West Side apartment, "Three Changes" portrays what happens when an unruly, drug-addicted writer named Hal (Cohen) descends on the unhappy but staid home of his younger brother, Nate (McDermott), and his wife, Laurel (Tierney), who has recently suffered a miscarriage. Hal installs himself and the gay runaway (Brian J. Smith) he has picked up.
What happens feels like a home invasion. Soon Hal and the young hustler have tossed their belongings all over the pristine, middle-class living room and turned Nate and Laurel's private space into their own.
Some of this upheaval has temporary benefits: hearing the nightly sex between Hal and his friend, Nate and Laurel find their own sex life improving. Up until now, Nate has been having an affair with a cosmetics salesgirl (Aya Cash) at Bloomingdale's.
But soon Hal's visit destroys the marriage and his brother's emotional equilibrium, resulting in a final "change" that unfortunately is more perplexing than dramatic.
Silver ("Fat Men in Skirts") has always had a keen sense of the viciousness that underlies the benign appearances of middle-class American life. At its most affecting, "Three Changes" arouses fear that, at any moment, one's personal, carefully assembled world could be destroyed.
But Silver employs the technique of having the characters narrate their stories to the audience, a device that feels unnecessary here. And the play's end (best not revealed) -- possibly fantasy, perhaps intended to be ironic -- is an anti-climactic coda that undercuts the script's earlier vitality. It's as though Silver has opted out of his own play.
It's well-staged by English director Wilson Milam ("The Lieutenant of Inishmore"), who imposes crispness and lively pacing on the production.
Tierney completely inhabits the character of Laurel, who changes from being unhappy to taking on the role she has always wanted, that of a mother. And Cohen ("Jacob's Ladder") creates both the charm and the meanness of psychopathic Hal.
Most satisfying of all, as the traumatized Nate, McDermott gives one of the best performances of his career. Nate's disintegration is palpable and terrifying, conveying the heart of what is fiercest in Silver's disturbing play.
Cast: Aya Cash, Scott Cohen, Dylan McDermott, Brian J. Smith, Maura Tierney.
Playwright: Nicky Silver.
Director: Wilson Milam.
Scenic designer: Neil Patel.
Costume designer: Theresa Squire.
Lighting designer: Ben Stanton.
Sound designer: Bart Fasbender.