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The Cell Theater’s current summer repertory program (co-produced by the Hive) may be called “Summer of Lust.” Bad Evidence, though—the second show of the series—is not quite so sexy as the season’s name purports.
Instead, novelist and poet Terry Quinn’s new domestic drama assaults you with his characters’ emotional problems in a play that embodies all the melodrama and intellectual pretension of a mediocre Woody Allen film (Nietzsche casually adorns bedside tables), but with little of the wit.
Bad Evidence opens like many pieces that strive to harness the causes of marital strife—on a dozing husband and his emotionally unfulfilled wife. Ultimately, their path to reconciliation involves innumerable implausible acts, raging from giddy practical jokes to an enormously uncomfortable scene of coerced sex.
Armand Anthony and Carmit Levité (playing the couple, Richard and Leah) struggle admirably with Quinn’s text, dialogue that lacks subtlety and nuance. Early on, Leah talks of “Secrets that lie in [her] breast like shards of iron…”—a line more likely to evoke cringes than tears.
Director Kira Simring and her design team aptly fashion the Cell’s renovated townhouse of a theater into two distinct yuppie enclaves. But she fails to transition smoothly to the incongruent second act, which moves from bedroom to living room and introduces most of her characters: the neighbors who make all the play’s infidelities possible. Granted, Quinn’s dinner party is more conducive to pithy dialogue, and thus the second act moves with a much quicker pace—but bringing in so many new characters so late makes it hard for anyone besides her leads to resonate.
Which isn’t to say that Bad Evidence is without its moments. Leah’s musings about how other characters represent her in anecdotes contain some interesting metaphysical conundrums, and Gary Lee Mahmoud is charming as family friend and state assemblyman Jeremy, whose laughable evolution from uptight working-stiff to coke-addled libertine offers some welcome (although inexplicable) comic relief. Still, Quinn is working with familiar territory, in a play that’s as rocky as his subjects’ marriages.