Backstage, November 2, 2004


by Andy Propst

In "Roulette," playwright Paul Weitz sets a difficult task for himself: combining farce with Pirandellian questions of what constitutes reality. While not always the happiest of marriages, Weitz's dark comedy contains many moments that work with grand aplomb, particularly given Trip Cullman's astute and carefully paced direction.

Set in an upper-middle-class New York suburb, "Roulette" introduces executive Jon and his family to the audience. Jon's wife, Enid, is having an affair with next-door neighbor Steve. Steve's wife, Virginia, and Jon are both aware of the affair, and they arrange a dinner party to confront their spouses. When this dinner goes tragically awry, everyone, including Jon's children, Jock and Jenny, must confront what they believe to be real.

Larry Bryggman creates an almost beatific presence as the slightly askew Jon early on, and later plays the character's misinterpretations of his whereabouts with seeming glee, even if some of Weitz's writing here feels forced. (Why does the man think he's a priest?) Equally impressive is Ana Gasteyer, who brings grace and expert comic timing to Virginia, who's plagued by social anxiety.

As Jenny, Anna Paquin has a tightly coiled physicality that fascinates, and she uncovers surprising nuance in the character's cliched alcohol swigging in the second act. Leslie Lyles brings a coolness to the role of the sometimes smoldering mother, while Shawn Hatosy provides an unbridled energy as the girl's clumsy, self-loathing brother. Mark Setlock (a last-minute addition to the cast) has an easy time conveying Steve's awkwardly manipulative personality.

Scenic designer Takeshi Kata provides a comfortable and inviting suburban interior (lit with warmth by Greg MacPherson) for the play. The design transforms easily when Weitz moves the action for one scene to Jon's office, even if one questions the need for opening up this amiable and sometimes intelligent domestic comedy.

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