Playwright: Theresa Rebeck. At: Writers Theatre, 325 Tudor Ct., Glencoe. Tickets: 847-242-6000; Writerstheatre.org; $35-$80. Runs through: April 2
What makes a man completely melt down? Playwright Theresa Rebeck can't answer this questiontoo many possible reasonsbut it's her focus in The Scene, in which Charlie ( Mark L. Montgomery ), a 40-ish actor, destroys his 10-year marriage, throws away his longest friendship and rejects all professional possibilities, winding up an alcoholic street bum.
Charlie enjoyed early-career TV stardom but hasn't worked for some time. His wife, Stella ( Charin Alvarez ), supports them with a successful behind-the-scenes TV job. When very acerbic Charlie meets young, beautiful Clea ( Deanna Myers ) at an industry party, it's instant mutual dislike. Recently arrived from Ohio, Clea combines millennial vapidity with Valley Girl rhetoric. But Clea is much more than meets the eye/ear, and when she and Charlie next cross paths they begin a sexually voracious affair, which Stella discovers.
The minimal showbiz trappings of The Scene ( referring to the most of-the-moment place ) don't matter. Any profession would serve. The play really is about a very smart but self-destructive man who embraces his downward spiral with enthusiasm: the sex, betrayals, substance abuse and churlish attitudes.
With a splendid Chicago-based cast, design team and director, this production confirms Chicago's status as a world-class theatre city which nurtures artists ( if not always paying them well ). Director Kimberly Senior, designers Brian Sidney Bembridge ( scenic ) and Nan Zabriskie ( costumes ), actors Montgomery and Alvarez and their cohorts not named here all are outstanding theater artists who have matured before our eyes ( and paid their dues ) over 20 years or more.
Under Senior's direction, Montgomery plays Charlie's with tremendous vigor and assurance and barely a hint of apology. He conveys Charlie's intelligence and how he is drawn to strong women. He rejects his wife as being "too competent" but only at Clea's suggestion. It's an edgy performance of a meaty role. Myers is equally assured as Clea, a vixen who's dumb-like-a-fox and also dare-I-say sexy. She reveals Clea's steeliness only by degrees, although her self-absorption is clear from the get-go. Alvarez and La Shawn Banks ( Charlie's best friend ) offer convincing support.
Even so, The Scene cannot answer the big questions: why is this happening to Charlie now? Why does Charlie refuse help? Rebeck's intelligent script perhaps is too pithy for its own good. We never see Stella being "too competent" in a way which troubles Charlie. We never see Charlie in a career context, so we can't fathom his apparent professional despair. We don't know Charlie well enough before the melt-down to understand its "why," so the fall from content husband to street bum is rather extreme.
Bembridge's icy-but-beautiful set, with glass walls and floor and a starscape, suggests the moneyed high-rise glamor spots of New York, where The Scene takes place.