Yasmina Reza’s 2000 play Three Versions of Life is translated into English by Christopher Hampton as Life X 3 and is presented at the Phoenix Theatre in San Francisco by the Off-Broadway West.
Sylvia Burboeck is dangerously sharp as Sonia, the lawyer wife of Henry the astronomer. She can be nice but rules with sarcastic logic. She immediately sets the tone of the performance by treating her husband and off-stage child as distractions.
Aren Haun’s mercurial Henry is one of the hinges upon which the 3 scenes turn: does he choose to be offended at the suggested insult? Or does he shake off compromise and schmooze like everyone else?
Sylvia Kratins’ Inez is another wild card. Will she put up with her husband’s snide comments or will she stick up for herself? Is she his equal or is she only a woman, the bearer of children, an underling, a target of tiny jokes?
Peter Fitzsimmons’ Hubert is the stable center upon which the action revolves, rather like the sun with its irrelevant planets. He is securely married, aloof, tenured, a member of powerful committees who can make break careers, a sexist philanderer for amusement, an issuer of grand-unified, grandiloquent, geopolitical pontifications designed to shake the world, and a consistent torment to his lucky wife.
The fast-paced production is directed by Cecelia Palmtag using the intimacy of Phoenix's small stage to bring the audience into the action. You are seated in Henry and Sonia’s sparse living room that barely conceals a profound discomfort.
Reza’s script is structurally congruent with Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolfe? in that a university couple with a virtual child is visited by another university couple. They drink too much and reveal a multiplicity of mind-games, including one-upmanships, flirtations, and betrayals, which gives the actors full range. Reza’s script repeats a scene wherein the characters assume a different level of risk and therefore generate radically different dramas. This fractures me, in the audience, I'm glad to say, because I find myself recentering.
Colin Johnson’s lovely lighting adds an ethereal dimension to the production.
Don’t miss this wonderful audience experience.
Life X 3 plays at the Phoenix Theatre, 414 Mason Street, San Francisco California until July 19th, 2014.