When my eyes glazed over during the beginning of Act I of Theresa Rebeck’s latest work, Poor Behavior, I knew the play wasn’t working for me. Two characters, Ella and Ian, inebriated from drinking too much wine, are debating the nature of goodness. The dialogue is boring and disappointing, especially since Rebeck’s other plays, Mauritius, Seminar and even the short-lived NBC show “Smash,” were very well-written and enjoyable.
The new play deals with two married couples who spend the weekend together. Peter (Jeff Biehl, who is bland even when he’s irate) and his wife, Ella (a lively Katie Kreisler), invite their long-term friends, Maureen (Heidi Armbruster) and Ian (Brian Avers) to visit for the weekend, and after their consuming several bottles of wine, the weekend turns from pleasant to rancorous. Ian verbally jousts with Ella, causing Maureen to become suspicious of their relationship. Later, she accuses her husband of having an affair with Ella. The manipulative Ian purposely doesn’t deny the accusations, and the married couples’ relationships begin to fray.
Later in the second act, when Ian waxes philosophically again, even Maureen looks totally distant and even vacant. I wonder if director Evan Cabnet gave Armbruster that direction or she just realized that was how the audience would feel. Fortunately some other moments are entertaining, like when the characters mutilate pretentiously expensive muffins and tear up some carefully tended basil plants. The passion between Ella and Ian is palpable so that element works, but the play goes on too long. Although a bit too passionate, Avers does a fine job.
It still was not enough to make the play work. Peter and Maureen cut the weekend short and leave to go home. I just kept wishing that I could go home, too.