Oct 25, 2006

A Private "In Public" Review

For a variety of complicated reasons, my review of George Hunka's In Public, assigned by the Times, will not appear in the Times. So here it is. Just imagine the Times font and the newsprint ink on your fingers.

Lesson for accused philanderers: Don’t look the man you may be cuckolding in the eye and lecture him on the nature of honesty and guilt. “The history of the world is a history of the attractive, imaginative lie triumphing over the truth,” says Drew (Daryl Lathon), a sleek art history professor, over drinks with Arthur (Abe Goldfarb), an anxious bartender who suspects Drew of taking an unacademic interest in his wife, Lila. Drew adds, reasonably but not helpfully: “If you can ever know what that is.”

Poor, precious Drew can’t help himself: Throughout George Hunka’s insinuating, meditative new play “In Public,” this impeccably dressed tenure-tracker with a specialty in Weimar-era German art oozes smiling, sardonic superiority, as if the tawdry details of daily discourse, not to mention the finer points of who might be doing what with whom, were a trifling annoyance. Drew’s wife Linda (Jennifer Gordon Thomas), a careworn teacher, is fully equipped to keep up with his rarefied game, but why should she have to work so hard? As for Lila (Ronnica V. Reddick), she shares Drew’s Weimar fixation, but that’s not the fire that lights up their coy confab about aesthetics and the tango.

Director Isaac Butler’s production gathers strength in freighted, misdirected silences and supple, rippling subtexts. The way Mr. Lathon and Ms. Thomas play an acrid face-off, ostensibly over an art treatise he’s written, is a masterful demonstration in infusing a heady argument with a lethal dramatic edge.

Not every scene crackles with this tension, and the distracting comic asides of Brian Sillman, playing a series of waiters and bystanders, belong in another play. But a final, full-cast scene of tentative conciliation, with the couples chastened back into their married selves, has a bite of resignation worthy of Pinter. Who needs privacy when our public masks give us away?

“In Public” runs through Oct. 28 at manhattantheatresrouce, 177 Macdougal St., Manhattan. (212) 868-4444.

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