By Stephen Belber; Directed by Shira-Lee Shalit
Produced by Knife Edge Productions
Off Off Broadway, Play Revival
Runs through 9.20.14
TBG Theatre, 312 West 36th Street
by Sarah Weber on 9.8.14
Chaz Reuben, Michael Puzzo, Danelle Eliav, and Neil Holland in Fault Lines.
BOTTOM LINE: Two old friends meet in a bar to catch up, but what begins as friendly “bar talk” escalates into a probing and divisive debate over loyalty, truth, and growing up.
Every person with any sort of social life has endured the incredible awkwardness of the “catch up date” gone wrong. It starts when you and an old friend who you now speak to half as much as you used to decide to meet up for coffee or drinks. You both sit down and the first ten minutes feels like a forced exchange of inconsequential details about your lives. But then the silence settles in with both of you staring into your beverages wondering, “why do I have nothing to say to someone I thought I knew so well?”
This brand of awkward permeates the theatre with Jim (Neil Holland) and Bill (Chaz Reuben) in the first scene. Jim and Bill have been friends for eighteen years, and now they are drinking and playing pool in the backroom of a dive to celebrate Bill’s 39th birthday. As they catch up about their lives, it becomes clear that the two friends have little in common anymore. Bill is happily married, apparently, but he’s concerned about his wife’s current desire to be untethered by children. Jim, on the other hand, claims to be on the search for a “mate” while bragging about his sexual exploits with women from ages 20 to 51. The two men have very different priorities, and clearly do not see eye to eye on how to best live their lives.
As their conversation becomes more private, an unwelcomed and clumsy stranger, Joe (Michael Puzzo), enters the backroom and intrudes on their conversation entirely. Played excellently by Puzzo, Joe has no sense of privacy or social decorum. He targets Bill and probes into his personal life while asking questions that play with his notions of reality; are you and your wife actually happy together, Bill? You might think so, but are you sure? Is she faithful? Could Jim be secretly in love with her? Are the two of you still best friends anyway? What ensues is an uncomfortable debate fraught with deceit, mind games, and long-buried secrets.
Fault Lines premiered off Broadway in 2008 at the Cherry Lane. This revival offers the combination of a strong cast and Shira-Lee Shalit’s intuitive staging, reinforcing an already well-crafted script. Puzzo’s performance is especially strong and he, by far, steals the show. He embodies Joe so completely that the moment he stumbles on stage both the energy and the pace pick up dramatically. I also appreciate Reuben’s portrayal of Bill; the casting choice infuses Fault Lines with a smart though subtle racial commentary, and Reuben rises to the occasion.
However, the play’s structure raises a question that, frankly, I could find no answer for -- why does Bill stay in the bar? After so much interrogation, he could have left very easily and put an end to it. He clearly does not want to be around Joe, so what motivates him to stay? Does he have some sick curiosity for how this will all end? Does he feel like he has nowhere else to go? For the plot to work, Bill does need to remain in the bar. But with so many reasons to leave we are left wondering what he thinks he accomplishes in staying.
Despite the plot questions, Fault Lines is smartly crafted. Its talented cast and crew have done a remarkable job bringing the characters to life. Every artist involved clearly put a great deal of love and care into mounting this production; their dedication definitely paid off.
(Fault Lines plays at the TBG Theatre at 312 West 36th Street, through August 20, 2014. Performances are Mondays at 7PM; Wednesdays through Saturdays at 8PM; and Sundays at 7PM. Tickets are $18 and are available at knifeedgeproductions.com or by calling 212-352-3101.)