A sign in the lobby warns the audience of the “loud gunshot sounds” and cigarette smoke present in Roulette, and it’s hard not to see this heads-up as deliberate provocation. The production, directed by Trip Cullman, sorely needs something to jolt theatergoers from the tedious foray into suburban anomie and amnesia chic. American Pie co-director Paul Weitz’s lazily written play introduces Russian roulette from the first scene, as if to wink at Chekhov’s shopworn gun/bang adage: Adman Jon (Larry Bryggman) comes downstairs to an empty breakfast table, where he calmly unloads a gun from his briefcase, spins the cylinder, and clicks air. Halfway through the piece, after a laborious explication of how wife Enid (Leslie Lyles) is having an affair with their dotcom-busted friend and neighbor Steve (Mark Setlock), Jon’s luck runs out, but the deadly game is less a successful coup de théâtre than an irritatingly obvious grab for attention.
The language is largely dead in the mouth when not downright echolalic (“Why don’t you shut up?” matched by “Why don’t you shut up?”), though Bryggman has some fun with the non sequiturs that he utters, post-gunshot. As Jon’s teenage daughter, Anna Paquin dresses goth, swigs booze, and sounds like a Valley girl with hiccups; SNL alum Ana Gasteyer does her best with the almost nonsensical role of Steve’s one-crayon-short wife; and wildly overexpressive Shawn Hatosy (as meathead son Jock) seems to have wandered in from another play entirely. Too dull to be satire, too improbably motivated to be anything else, Roulette can best be savored philosophically, though not in the way Weitz & co. might have hoped. One wonders, what were they thinking?