By Joseph Hurley
"Lascivious Something" By Sheila Callaghan • at the Julia Miles Theater, 424 West 55th St., NYC • Through June 6.
Marsha Ginsberg's odd set design for Sheila Callaghan's romantic comedy, "Lascivious Something" fills the stage at the Julia Miles Theater with eight or so gigantic structures made of stones piled up and bound together by wire fencing.
The strangeness of the situation is compounded by the production's program, which specifies the play's location as being a remote Greek island, and the time of action restricted to Autumn 1980. Ronald Reagan has just been elected President, and a American, August, has recently married a Greek girl named Daphne, and settled on that remote chunk of Aegean landscape.
In addition, August and Daphne have planted a small vineyard which, as the play opens, is ripening and about to produce a harvest. Just as the grapes are coming into season, one of August's old flames, Liza, turns up unannounced and ready for trouble.
Liza, booking a room for a week's stay from Daphne, pretends to be exhausted from an extensive and taxing travel schedule which took her through Germany, Italy, Hungary and other venues. But Liza's story is fake; in reality, she has come directly from America and her not-so-hidden agenda involves restoring her relationship with the unsuspecting August as rapidly as possible.
"Lascivious Something" contains a fourth and final character, appearing midway through the tale's action. The program identifies the bizarre character as "Boy," with no specific name, as if Callaghan's story cried out for even further complexity. August and Daphne, however, refer to the new arrival from the outset as a female, which she clearly appears to be.
From time to time in the somewhat protracted course of "Lascivious Something," playwright Callaghan resorts to a literary device which may make some audiences think in terms of film rather than theater.
A scene begins, and comes to conclusion, often a rough or even vicious one. Then, without a warning, the actors play out the scene a second time, leading to a differing climax.
At the press performance, the technique appeared to confuse the audience, perhaps because it never seemed to pay off with any effectiveness.
Liza seems to be carrying a good deal of money, enough to take Daphne on an elaborate shopping expedition, from which the pair returns with an expensive-looking evening gown for August's wife. The remote Greek island on which the play takes place has, apparently, a trendy shop or two.
Director Daniella Topol hasn't been able to inject much energy into Callaghan's text, but the gifted Rob Campbell manages to make sense of August, as does Elizabeth Waterston with Daphne.
Dana Eskelson pushes too hard with Liza, and Ronete Levenson isn't given enough stage time to do much with "Boy."
It's tempting to wonder where set designer Ginsberg managed to get all those rocks.