Project Arts Centre, Dublin ****
From Shakespeare to Molière to Ayckbourn to Wilde, the romantic comedy has been shaped by a predictable formula: Cupid strikes; chaos ensues; order is eventually restored. Mark Cantan turns this prescription into a mathematical matter in his new play Jezebel, which uses a statistical approach to establish its unlikely plot and to reinvigorate dramatic cliches for the 21st century.
If the structure is predictable, the premise is brilliantly bizarre. What are the chances that two women will get pregnant by the same man in the same act of copulation when engaged in a threesome? 0.026 per cent, apparently, so “It was inevitable. When you think about it.”
Alan and Robin are a couple brought together by logic rather than passion. They met at a business appointment, when the impulsive Robin asked the practical Alan whether he would be interested in applying himself in the bedroom as well as the boardroom. A few months later, they are in love, and so comfortable with each other they bring their mobile phones to bed.
When they take the common-sense approach to spicing up their sex-life, a variety of sexual experiments naturally leads to a threesome. In steps a desperate, ditzy artist called Jezebel, who becomes the key driver in a series of misunderstandings that unravel their relationship, as “the standards of deviation come loose”.
Cantan’s play is structured by short snappy scenes that force the actors in and out of third-person narration. Under José Miguel Jiménez’ speedy direction, the production takes a while to settle down, but Peter Daly (a brilliantly deadpan Alan), Niamh McCann (as no-nonsense Robin) and Valerie O’Connor (all wide eyes and open mouth as the guileless Jezebel) manage to impose themselves upon material thickly layered with one-liners. At times, Ciaran O’Melia’s set seems a little too small for the busy action, but it forces the actors into positions that greatly enhance aspects of the physical comedy.
Ultimately, Jezebel is a familiar bedroom farce, but it is no less enjoyable for that, and there is a real satisfaction in watching the ridiculous scenario spiral out of control before – yes – an inevitable happy ending.
Until December 22nd