The Asolo Rep’s world premiere only partly lives up to its promise.
By Kay Kipling
Playwright Jason Wells' Men of Tortuga was an intriguing and exciting addition to the Asolo Rep's lineup a couple of seasons ago, with a dark comedic viewpoint of the extremes to which men in power will go to hold on to their power--and their secrets. Now Wells is back at the Asolo with a new work (in fact, a world premiere), Perfect Mendacity, which also has a thing or two to say about secrets.
In this case the man with the secret (at least the first one that we meet) is Walter Kreutzer (David Breitbarth), a microbiologist working with a private firm that in turn does some work for the government. When we meet Walter he's in the office of a polygraph expert (DeMario McGrew), hoping to find a way to beat the test he's being required to take to prove his innocence. Seems that confidential information about some rather nasty business the firm is involved in was leaked to the Internet, and Walter's a prime suspect.
But perhaps Walter didn't do it; it may have been his Moroccan, therefore Arabic, therefore possible terrorist wife, Samira (Diana Simonzadeh), who saw the memo when he unwisely brought it home. Does Walter want to beat the machine to protect himself or her? And will Samira, who has a secret or two of her own, somehow persuade Walter to 'fess up in order to make peace with his better self?
It's a good premise, but only part of its promise is fulfilled in this production. Wells is always a good writer of dialogue; his characters, which also include here Roger (Douglas Jones), a plausibly smooth co-worker of Walter's, banter ideas and suspicions back and forth with agility, and you have to work to keep up. There are sneaky little surprises and good comic moments, as when good old Roger comes over to Walter and Samira's for a drink and then pulls a fast one by--no, I won't spoil it.
So, clever and funny Perfect Mendacity often is. But it would help if we believed more in the characters and their relationships, specifically the one between Walter and Samira. Although Simonzadeh is often effective in the way she pretends innocence or misunderstanding to manipulate her husband, we never really have a sense of why these two are together in the first place, no real belief in the history of their love. And Breitbarth's Walter, who doesn't come across as a scientist personality at all, either relies or is forced to rely too much on the same notes of indignation and panic; there's not much modulation in his performance to lend it any depth or conviction.
Jones provides some cynically comic entertainment, and there are a few sharply executed turns here, as directed by Michael Donald Edwards. But based on this production, at least, a little more tweaking of the script seems in order.
Perfect Mendacity continues through June 14 in the Cook Theatre. For tickets call 351-8000 or go to asolo.org.