Tobi (Gordon McConnell) obviously doesn't receive many visitors for impromptu Scrabble matches, clearly observed from the agonizing way he arranges a table of wine bottles and bowls of Chex Mix to greet Lisa (Claire Tyler) and her husband, Mike (Paul Tei), who come around one day to buzz his bell. Which is why it's curious and suspicious that Lisa has come at all to interview him for her doctoral dissertation on classical dance. "No one ever wants to talk to the choreographer," Tobi coyly tells them.
That's how Match, which opened last week at Mosaic Theatre, begins. As this tale unfolds, you quickly realize the interviewers' intentions aren't fully laid out on the table along with the Chex Mix. What are Lisa and Mike after? As their interview turns into interrogation, it becomes more and more apparent that Mike, not Lisa, is the real interviewer here and that, no, they don't want to talk to Tobi about choreography.
In Match, which originally premiered in a brief run on Broadway in the spring of 2004, playwright Stephen Belber shows off a distinct vision he's previously pursued through his play/movie Tape and his co-writing on the play/movie The Laramie Project. While Tom Stoppard has his plays within plays, Belber has a thing for conflicted threesomes reconstructing the past. In Tape, it was two old high school friends, a woman they shared, and a possible 10-year-old rape. Belber seems intent on fully exploring over and over the dirty politics faced by three people together.
Belber also has a technology fetish for the tape recorder as symbolic totem, and when Mike starts taping Lisa's interview of Tobi in Match, you just know there's going to be some twisted exploration of the past. The tape recorder is a threat. It will hold you to your story. It will make you confess, on the record. And here, it also makes Tobi very, very nervous.
Tobi and his world are, after all, like a suspect museum exhibit, ready to be challenged, and the play settles into a tour of memory and explanation in which even the audience's own desire for truth is finally challenged. One message of the finale is that it may not matter in the end, what is real or fake, as long as the job of finding satisfaction for these flawed folks is done.
Belber has a true handle on natural dialogue. Although the second act initially lags whether through the writing or Mosaic's execution you still gamble that this thriller will be fully realized as you trust that Belber, director Richard Jay Simon, and the actors will pull it out.
Tei is pure in his rigid portrayal of Mike, and his taciturn plodding through the first act keeps audience members on the edge of their seats. Tyler, as Lisa, offers a wide-eyed sensitivity that seems much like that of the character she played last season in Mosaic's The Pull of Negative Gravity a Welsh nurse caught between two brothers. Here, though, her charm gets fuller play without Pull's conceit of a thickly adopted accent that made her sound just a bit too much like Spud in Trainspotting.
As well as Tyler and Tei work here, though, they both also surely know that the play's star is whatever guy happens to play the aging choreographer. In this case, they lucked out, because McConnell's performance as sad, gregarious Tobi is enthralling. Belber's written dialogue for Tobi is natural, and, McConnell naturally occupies that dialogue.
Within the framework of Tobi as the play's dominating force, however, Tyler's and Tei's performances should also take on deserved weight. They skillfully inhabit with warmth the quiet spaces mixed into the play along with the overwhelming presence of McConnell's character. Without the pair's sharply understated responses, the force of Tobi would have nowhere to go.
Match, oddly, is sort of a Christmas play, like a twisted Hallmark Hall of Fame. Its warm and winking unresolved ending results from playwright Belber's exploration of threesomes, with Lisa as a fulcrum here and the two men growing during the second act to do things for each other they probably would never have done without her as catalyst.
Their embrace at the end is as much a way to recognize their love for her as it is to solidify their own relationship. And that's just fine whatever it takes to create a new and possibly happy reality acceptable to all three parties.