Theatre Mirror Reviews - "The Three of Cups"

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note: entire contents copyright 2000 by Larry Stark

"The Three of Cups"

Written and Directed by Sinan Unel

Set and Costume Design by Kristin Loeffler
Lighting Design by Marc Olivere
Stage Manager Mark Sickler

Paul............Joseph MacDougal
Greg...........Brian McManamon
Mike............Christopher Thorn

I have just seen, back-to-back two plays I think are contending for Best New Play in Boston: 2000, and this is one of them. Both of them are excellent answers to my perennial question these days: what is it that Movies can do that The Stage can do better? Both scripts bend and twist reality in ways that film could do easier, but in a much more cold, distant way. Both use a bedrock of reality from which divergences are puzzling early and gripping later. And, of course, neither of them would have looked half so impressive were it not for solid casts of excellent actors and careful direction to match the excellent use of language.

Sinan Unel's "The Three of Cups" is a single-set examination of a homosexual triangle that peels, again and again, down through flesh and self-deceptions right to the nut. The story is told with many layers of present and past on top of one another, scenes briefly acted out, and different interpretations of and reactions to the same events presented. And the central technical story-telling device is so unique anyone going to see the show --- and everyone should --- had best call for tickets and read no further.

Are you still reading?

Then I'll assume you want to know something about the show without seeing it, so I'll reveal the plot device here:
While Paul, his first live-in lover of four months, is spending Christmas with his folks, young Greg is visited by Mike, who for eight years had been Paul's tempestuous lover. The intense and complicated situation in their elegant living-room is further complicated by the fact that Paul is actually a presence in the room --- commending, correcting, giving Greg a tarot-reading he interprets sexually, and briefly re-enacting past scenes or conversations with both Greg and Mike. So the events of the evening progress on one level, while the playwright crams into the hour and a half two-act play all the conflicts and ambiguities of their three lives.

The playwright is his own director here, seeing to it that every character is a presence, reacting even if uninvolved, every moment of the play. Whenever any two talk or grapple or kiss it becomes a habit for the audience to glance away to see how the onlooker is taking it.

Paul (Joseph MacDougal) and Mike (Christopher Thorn) came out together in high school but for the next eight years Paul was woundingly promiscuous --- and Mike always tried, vindictively, to seduce each of his new lovers. The pattern may be repeating here, but all three genuinely learn a lot about themselves in this red-hot situation. Ultimately they realize that even in the throes of brutally, graphically (simulated) sex it is possible to remain ecstatically in love with another.

The play has been given a lovingly careful production by The Playwrights' Theatre in their smaller, high-rake Studio B. Greg is an architecture major about to switch to art (Mike paints; Paul gruffly says he'll eventually go to law school) --- and Kristin Loeffler's set, with a wide, low bookcase balancing well-chosen elements and details, reflects his delicately balanced character even before the house-lights dim. Mike's pea-jacket and toque hat, Paul's sneakers, and the wines Greg chooses to go with his unsuccessful cooking deftly fill in every corner. And the actors are fearlessly superb.

Sinan Unel's "Three of Cups" is short only on the clock, and its first act ends with an emotional thunderclap changing everything. See it and then whip over to The Tremont Theatre to see actor-playwright Brandon Toropov's "7 Affidavits on Authority" and vote whether Unel's or Toropov's is the best new play of the year. (And take notes; there'll be a quiz.)


"The Three of Cups" (till 24 September)
949 Commonwealth Avenue, BOSTON

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide