Theater Reviews



Second Stage, New York
Through Feb. 11

Tony Shalhoub is a funny man. The star of USA Network's hit detective series "Monk" can make you laugh by merely twitching an eyebrow or staring at a suspect in horrified disbelief. But try as he might, Shalhoub can't rescue Theresa Rebeck's "The Scene," a new, confused off-Broadway comedy about making it (or not) in the Big Apple.

Set in several Manhattan apartments, "Scene" revolves around out-of-work actor Charlie (Shalhoub); his best pal Lewis (Christopher Evan Welch); sexy, blond Clea (Anna Camp), whom the men meet one night at a party; and Charlie's workaholic wife, Stella (Patricia Heaton of "Everybody Loves Raymond"). Clea is newly arrived from Ohio, but she knows the town. Soon this black-garbed Eve has seduced Charlie and moved on, leaving him marriageless and homeless. And "Scene," which begins as a chipper if predictable boulevard comedy, mysteriously dissolves in the weak second act into a character study of an angst-ridden man.

Rebeck, who has written for such top-of-the-line TV shows as "Third Watch" and "NYPD Blue," has always been strongest when dramatizing the manners of urban men and women who chase the brass rings of romance or success ("Bad Dates," "The Family of Mann.") She comes to grief on the shoals of seriousness, as with last season's feverish adaptation of a Greek tragedy, "The Water's Edge" (also produced by Second Stage).

With "Scene," Rebeck fails to lay the groundwork for Charlie's second-act disintegration. Yes, he is unhappy being supported by his sexually unresponsive wife. But how does that lead to his living on the streets in a filthy shirt and torn jeans? Even Rebeck doesn't seem to know what to do with the plot direction she has taken. At the end, she gives Charlie one of the weaker curtain lines on record.

Director Rebecca Taichman, who staged "Scene" at the 2006 Humana Festival of New American Plays at the Actors Theatre of Louisville, never solves the problem, nor, despite their fervid efforts, does her cast. Shalhoub is best when Charlie acidly criticizes Clea's apparently low brain power (in Camp's excellent performance, Clea has the smarts of the totally ruthless). But Shalhoub looks a bit lost as a homeless misfit. Welch gives a pleasant, humorous performance as Charlie's friend, but Heaton rarely overcomes the one-note irritation that Rebeck writes for Charlie's wife. Play and production are finally as superficial as the scene Rebeck wants to portray.

Presented by Second Stage Theatre
Playwright: Theresa Rebeck
Director: Rebecca Taichman
Set designer: Derek McLane
Costume designer: Jeff Mahshie
Lighting designer: Natasha Katz
Sound designer: Martin Desjardins
Clea: Anna Camp
Stella: Patricia Heaton
Charlie: Tony Shalhoub
Lewis: Christopher Evan Welch