Richard Maxwell’s new play is about myth, memory, and a house that never gets built. Lighter and more sardonic than the playwright-director’s recent work (especially 2013’s densely poetic Neutral Hero), Isolde, now playing at Abrons Arts Center, toys with theatrical conventions, creating an intriguing concoction of the recognizable and the strange.
Isolde (Tory Vazquez) is a wealthy middle-age actress suffering from a memory-destroying disease that prevents her from practicing her craft. With the support of her stoic husband (Jim Fletcher), she turns her energies to building her dream house. Before long, she’s having a torrid affair with her architect (Gary Wilmes), and a tense love triangle takes shape.
Even when using familiar forms, Maxwell is never predictable. Though he’s written a tale of infidelity, he seems most interested in the different kinds of architecture, real and metaphorical, involved: the way buildings hold memories, the mental scaffolding we rely on in daily life, and the mythic repertoire underlying ordinary relationships. (The legend of Tristan and Isolde surfaces explicitly, and delightfully, toward the end.)
Maxwell directs the play with characteristically clean lines and meditative pacing. Sascha van Riel’s beautiful set — half mid-century modern furniture, half cardboard flats — evokes Isolde’s unfinished ideas, dreams abandoned or forgotten before they could come to life.