What impact do clashing worldviews have on relationships? The Double Murder Plays, an ambitious yet often confusing series of scenes written by Scott Klavan, uses a wide variety of styles to examine that question, from psychological realism to theater of the absurd. The six 10-to-15 minute scenes feature a man and a woman (Klavan and Harriet Trangucci), who in all but one scene are involved in some sort of romantic relationship. Each scene presents characters struggling to connect with one another, despite their often oppositional outlooks on life.
At best, the scenes –- the title calls them plays but few feel complete enough to stand on their own –- express variations on intimacy and love. Unfortunately, the connections between the scenes –- and sometimes even between the characters themselves –- are not clearly articulated by either Klavan’s text or Stephen Jobes’ direction.
With a simple but sufficient domestic set used for most of the scenes, the production opens with a well-dressed woman (Trangucci) carefully arranging a white linen tablecloth when a mentally ill homeless man walks into her dining room. At first frightened by the man’s bizarre behavior, she ultimately welcomes him to her table. Despite the committed performance of the actors, the reasons she does so –- Has she recognized him? Has something he said struck a cord? –- are never illuminated.
The first scene’s depiction of the man as a free thinker and the woman as his restrained, practical counterpart is replicated in several subsequent scenes. In one, a woman struggles to persuade her aging hippy husband that they should medically treat their son’s behavioral disorder. In another, involving two socks engaged in a delightfully whimsical exchange that lends a unique dimension to the concept of a mate, the sock played by the male actor pontificates on the nature of the universe and quotes Dostoyevsky while the sock portrayed by the female actor worries excessively and begs her mate to think practically. The cartoonish, human-size socks, designed by Caitlin O'Connor, fit over each actor's heads and keep their arms pinnned to their sides, leading to some fun physical comedy.
The scene for which the play is named is the most astutely directed and, therefore, its best: a husband and wife chat about their days and their careers, each secretly poisoning the other’s martini. By balancing realism with absurdism, the scene incorporates elements of the prior scenes. And by depicting a couple bantering as they kill each other, it has the most complete message. It would make a fitting conclusion for the evening.
Instead, the production closes with a confusing scene between a woman wondering if she wants kids and a bureaucrat who inexplicably appears in her home. The only scene not about a romantic relationship, it sends the show off course. The production would have done better to skip it and devote more work to the previous scenes; they need it.