REVIEW: Private Eyes

PHOTO: Private Eyes at Silver Spring Stage. Photo by Harvey Levine.

REVIEW • BY STEVE LAROCQUE

Suspend disbelief.

That’s what audiences are supposed to do in the theater, and the play is supposed to help them do that.

But what do you do about a play that deliberately creates confusion about what is going on – that, in effect, reinforces disbelief?

In Private Eyes, now playing at Silver Spring Stage, you can’t be sure, at any given moment, whether you’re seeing the story, a story within the story, or something else entirely. It’s like hiking up a trail that’s all switchbacks: you feel disoriented and tempted to quit, but you keep hoping that the scene at the top might be worth the trek.

As you can imagine, this kind of theater isn’t for everyone

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Private Eyes at Silver Spring Stage. Photo by Harvey Levine.

Let’s review the basics:

Matthew (Noah Rich) and Lisa (Caity Brown), a young married actor couple, are rehearsing a new play, directed by an imperious British director, Adrian (Jeff Breslow).

Adrian and Lisa are having an affair, practically under Matthew’s nose and apparently unbeknownst to him. But Matthew actually (probably) does know, as he reveals to his analyst Frank (Leta Hall), but he never gets around to confronting Lisa and Adrian. Nor do they confess to Matthew what they are up to.

While everyone is busy avoiding the issue, they think hard about their situations and exhale vaguely philosophical ideas. They also throw out red herrings about who is doing what, and with whom – or whether all of the goings-on are just part of the play they’re rehearsing together. In any event, they all solider on toward opening night, with deceptions, hesitations, and counseling, no one daring to confront the Awful Truth.

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Private Eyes at Silver Spring Stage. Photo by Harvey Levine.

Of course, it must be confronted, and eventually it is – not by any of the principals, but instead by … but that would be giving it away.

You might suspect that all of this doesn’t amount to very much. You might be right.

Affairs, including affairs between tyrannical directors and young actresses, are not exactly fresh material in theater, or anywhere else. And a play about theater, even if it philosophizes occasionally about Life, is pretty thin stuff, so don’t expect to come out with a whole lot more than you went in with.

But there are good things about Private Eyes: some first-rate lines delivered well – for instance, Matthew’s speech about how, when couples have used up all their superlatives on each other, the only way left for them to surprise their partner is to hurt them; or Frank’s reflections about how a great many people brush past each other in life, flirting with infidelity in their minds, but they never get around to committing it.

Unfortunately, a lot of the good material gets wasted, because the plot keeps throwing you off the path. Eventually, you get worn out, or just stop caring.

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Private Eyes at Silver Spring Stage. Photo by Harvey Levine.

The good news is that the cast, as usual at Silver Spring Stage, is on its game.

Caity Brown, as Lisa, is sharp and vulnerable by turns – just what the character needs. As Matthew, Noah Rich is powerful when he needs to be, but tortured, too – not an easy mix. Leta Hall, as the psychologist who prods Matthew to name his demons, is assured and classy.

Julia Morrissey, as the waitress/detective/wronged wife (don’t ask), has a tough job. She makes most of it work, but I didn’t entirely buy the wife. And costumes: why do all her personas have to wear jeans?

Then there’s Jeff Breslow’s Adrian. He’s suave and glib, his voice mellifluous, plummy, and (mostly) British. Unfortunately, he’s supposed to be, down deep, arrogant and tyrannical, but he’s not; he’s … cuddly. He dresses like a rumpled academic and pontificates about Truth. He drinks tea at rehearsals, while all the Yanks swill coffee – all except for Lisa, which leads to … you know what.

There’s actually a lot to like in Private Eyes, if you don’t mind being jerked around by the story. If you’re the kind of person who likes to figure things out, give it a try – but if you walk out scratching your head, don’t blame me.

Getting there by public transportation

From the Takoma Metro, caught the Red Line north to Silver Spring; took Metrobus Z8 at Bay 107 (Wayne Ave.); got off at Four Corners; total time: 18 minutes (!)

Return trip, not so lucky: caught the southbound Z6 Metrobus on Colesville Road; six-minute transit to downtown Silver Spring (nice); endured a 26-minute wait for the Red Line train at the Silver Spring Metro; total time to Takoma Metro: 40 minutes.

By Steven Dietz; directed by Jeff Mikoni; produced by Seth Ghitelman; set by Maggie Modig; costumes by Vanessa Terzaghi; lighting by Tony Bishop; sound by Jeff Mikoni; stage manager, Kristen Skolnik. At Silver Spring Stage, 10145 Colesville Road, Silver Spring, MD. September 18 – October 10. Fri-Sat: 8 pm; Sun 2 pm (Sep 27, Oct 4 only). Running time: 2 hrs. 10 min (including one 15-min intermission).

Cast: Jeff Breslow (Adrian), Caity Brown (Lisa), Leta Hall (Frank), Julia Morrissey (Cory), Noah Rich (Matthew)

About the Author

Steve LaRocque
Steve LaRocque has been an actor, director, playwright and technician in Maryland community and professional theaters since 1994. A retired Navy veteran, he recently completed a two-and-half year run with his one-man show, Byline: Ernie Pyle, playing the famous World War II correspondent.