REVIEW: BETWEEN US
Between Us is 2/3 of a fascinating play about many complex issues. Act One, in a variation on Dinner with Friends, follows a pair of newlyweds' reaction to the news of a fellow couple's impending divorce. Act Two turns the play into a study of artistic vision, money, and classism with faint echoes of both Death of a Salesman and Rent. And there the play ends, rather abruptly, and with no real reconciliation to the issues raised. With a third act to tie these ends together, Between Us could be a brilliant play. As a two-act piece, it is a good, if somewhat meandering, character and issue study that remains unresolved.
Joe Hortua's script does have a good deal in its favor. The dialogue flows between snap-crackle-pop and gentle lyricism, and the discomfort between the four characters is apparent immediately. Their attempts at dinner-party humor fall appropriately flat the situation is heavy, and the characters' endeavors to lighten it inevitably fail. It's a nice touch that becomes apparent only half-way through the first act. By the time the first curtain falls, we understand these characters clearly, and have seen remarkable growth in an hour's time. When the artistic and moral philosophy is dragged out in Act Two, the relationship study of Act One seems a distant memory indeed, the two acts could be individual plays. The characters have changed so much in the years between the acts that they are unrecognizable, and might as well be different people. Perhaps Hortua's intention is to demonstrate how time and circumstance change people, but with the themes of each act varying so widely, the disparity weakens the overall effect of the narrative. A third act to tie these many threads into a tapestry might be beneficial.
Not to worry there is certainly more that works in Between Us than doesn't. Even with the script's flaws, it still presents very interesting characters and arguments that are sure to inspire much discussion. The nuanced performances by the cast of four (Daphne Rubin-Vega, Kate Jennings Grant, David Harbour, and Bradley White) are wonderful, and each character is fully distinct and three-dimensional. They work together as an ensemble, creating wonderful tension (and, when appropriate, affection) among and between the two couples. Christopher Ashley's direction is strong and simple, moving nicely from comedy to intense introspection.
And Neil Patel's's set is nothing short of amazing, going from agoraphobically spacious in Act One, to claustrophobically confining in Act Two. (I had trouble believing that both sets used the same stage.) Flawlessly presenting both a huge Midwestern house and a cramped Manhattan apartment, Mr. Patel's stunning artwork lets us see the different worlds of the two couples before the first word is even spoken.