Contemporary French playwright Yasmina Reza creates intimate comic studies that should be in black-and-white, like sketches by printmaker deluxe Daumier, who chronicled the follies of 19th-century Parisians. Reza records our time with an equally precise pen. She colors them in with scabrous humor, a pitiless eye, and plenty of serpentine plot twists and reversals. She draws small, but is no less universal in her condemnation and gimlet-eyed understanding. Art and God of Carnage, translated by Christopher Hampton, both won Tony awards for Best Play in 1998 and 2009.
Her plays zoom by, propelled by posh characters whose veneer of civilization and culture is quick to slip. Usually fueled by copious amounts of alcohol, these high-bred intellectuals fall flat on their face when baser instincts take center stage. Like a demented A.R. Gurney on smack, or a hopped-up Noel Coward on meth, Reza turns the upper crust into crumbs. Yes, it's a facile and sometimes too easy target, but her zingy poisoned darts land with pinpoint accuracy. She skewers her characters, but they deserve it.
Written between Art and Carnage, Life X 3 (2000), in a dexterous production from Dirt Dogs Theatre Company to open its second season, is a classic plot teaser: a disastrous dinner party seen in three distinct views as each of the characters changes significantly from what's gone before.
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The first scene sets the structure for what's to follow. Patsy Henry (Kevin Daugherty), an over-wound clock, needs the approval from snooty boss Hubert (John Kaiser) to get a career boost when his scientific paper on stellar halos is published. Brittle wife Sonia (Katrina Ellsworth Ammons), a litigation lawyer, disparages him for toadying up to Hubert in such an unmasculine manner. She runs the house as thoroughly as she runs down Henry. Trying to calm their spoiled offstage son Arnaud (Kyle Anthony Mosley), these modern parents and their divergent parenting skills quickly characterize a marriage in trouble. Ding-dong. The dinner guests have arrived a day early. There's nothing to eat but chocolate cookies and Cheez-Its. But there's plenty of Sancerre. Hubert's wife, Inez (Melissa J. Mayo), worried about the rip in her stocking, is ripe for hubby Hubert's constant putdowns. Groomed and coiffed, she's a sad mannequin, while puffed-up Hubert delights in casting aspersions on everyone. Later, Henry will become assertive, Hubert more predatory, Inez more drunk and Sonia more willing.
Marital discord, more than astrophysics, is this comedy's universe, and while the three different views don't add up to any great significance one way or another, the play romps onward thanks to the crisp performances overseen by director Trevor B. Cone and one hell of a color-coordinated set and costume design created by Malinda Beckham. Never has yellow been such a dominant motif – Inez's luscious necklace and broach, the throw pillows, milquetoast Henry's argyle vest, Hubert's tie, Sonia's cocktail dress, the painted coat rack, and that delicious Lazy Susan coffee table, a find straight out of The Jetsons. Fresh and optimistic, the color yellow also denotes cowardice and deceit, and all these traits are built into Reza's somewhat superficial pinprick.
Hurricane Harvey put the brakes into the middle of the run, but two more performances remain. If you like your comedies cleverly constructed and bathed in bitch slaps, Dirt Dogs' interpretation will not disappoint. With all that sunshiny yellow, it's just what the weatherman ordered.
Performances of Life X 3 continue at 8 p.m., Friday, September 9, and Saturday, September 10 at The MATCH, 3400 Main. For information, visit dirtdogstheatre.org or call 713-521-4533. $22.