For her part Mary is tightlipped about her past. Not until Bernard insists on knowing her history do the stories about suicide (her mother's), abortion (her own), and death by torture (her last lover) come out, by which time, even if these weren't preposterously melodramatic details, Bernard and Mary's universe has ceased to hold any interest. It's obvious by this point that Mary is not telling the truth about some aspects of her life. Anyone still paying attention halfway through will learn about the example of plagiarism that encircles one of these two characters.
That leaves only the poststructuralists. Interestingly, the only part of What to Say with the smallest bit of life in it is an entr'acte in which we leave Mary's apartment, the setting for most of the play, and visit Bernard's lecture hall. Set just after Bernard has left his wife only to be abandoned by Mary, the scene is a monologue, staged as though we are Bernard's students. Both Bernard's workaday pitifulness (can he really care about the academic balderdash he's spouting?) and his newfound heartbreak come pouring through in this scene. Sagal may not be able to make any compelling connection between the theorists on Bernard's syllabus and the experience that Bernard has just gone through, but his writing is sharper here, even interesting.
As for Elliott, he gives a spellbinding performance, weaving shades of irony and bitterness into Bernard that until this point the character didn't seem to possess. Here's hoping another six years don't go by before the actor appears at Florida Stage again. As for Sagal, who is also the host of Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me, a quiz show on National Public Radio, here's hoping he doesn't show up again until he does have something to say.
What to Say.
Written by Peter Sagal. Directed by Louis Tyrrell. Starring Robert Elliott, Susan Gay, and Anthony Hubert. Through June 13. Florida Stage, Plaza Del Mar, 262 S. Ocean Blvd., Manalapan, 561-585-3404 or 800-514-3837.