Undress Rehearsal

Even though he's breaking with tradition with this play, Dietz's knack for dialogue and plotting demonstrates that he knows the rules of a well-constructed play. In one scene, for example, Matthew is nearly paralyzed with insecurity at the thought of Lisa's affair, and in another he's all brash bravado, making a play for her in a restaurant. In a more conventional play, both scenes could be used to draw a clear line through Matthew's troubled relationship. Here, however, they're the experiences of two men: the private Matthew and the actor going through a scene in rehearsal.

Playing the chameleon role of Matthew, Cutler delivers a multihued performance, which makes it nearly impossible to judge his character's true state of mind. Whether Matthew's planning revenge or struggling with thoughts of his wife's deception, Cutler drives the drama and delivers the laughs with expert timing.

Equally comic is Rogerson's pretentious theater director who does everything for dramatic effect. In a wickedly exaggerated but on-the-money portrayal, Rogerson is the quintessential pretentious director, playing up his British accent and pointing out the immense implications of the use of a chair as a prop. It's easy to see how such a man could turn an impressionable actress' head and her husband's stomach.

Disappointingly, Kay's Lisa leaves the romantic triangle with only two equal sides. Lisa is the alluring lover, faithless wife, other woman, or bored spouse, depending on who's sizing her up and the plot twist of the moment. While Kay pleasantly displays just how her character gets caught up in the affair, she doesn't provide any clue about the way Lisa feels.

Louis Tyrrell's taut direction provides each scene with its own internal logic and driving force. Thanks to Tyrrell's pacing, we laugh along with Dietz's jokes and admire his magician's skill of illusion without pausing to notice that the playwright hasn't done much to move us.

But in the play's final moments, when the pieces all fall into place, Dietz does leave us with Lisa and Matthew looking into each other's eyes. The emotional jolt it produces confirms Dietz's belief that there is a story somewhere in this play. Until he gets around to telling it in a more conventional way, I'll settle for the intellectually stimulating, if emotionally cold, exercise he's concocted instead.

Private Eyes.
Written by Steven Dietz. Directed by Louis Tyrrell. Starring J.C. Cutler, Kimberly Kay, Bob Rogerson, Rose Stockton, and Claudia Robinson. Through March 8. Florida Stage, 262 S. Ocean Blvd., Manalapan, 800-514-3837.

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