Sure, some strains of Wagner’s “Tristan and Isolde” are heard in the background, the actors put on medical garb at one point, but don’t attend Richard Maxwell’s “Isolde” expecting anything close to nineteenth-century romantic opera.
Maxwell, an experimental director-playwright whose work is frequently produced in the city, is using the famous Celtic myth of a doomed love triangle as the basis for a meditative but muted four-actor piece set in the present day.
Originally produced a year and a half ago at Abrons Arts Center on the Lower East Side for just nine performances, Theatre for a New Audience has brought it back for a longer run in Brooklyn.
Here, Isolde (Tory Vazquez) is a famous actress who can no longer remember her lines due to unexplained memory problems. To refocus her bundled energy, she decides to build a dream house, with the support of her patient husband Patrick (Jim Fletcher).
She selects as her architect the award-winning and unorthodox Massimo (Gary Wilmes), who insists on creating a perfect design that reflects Isolde and Patrick’s personalities.
While Patrick, who is a successful contractor, becomes suspicious of Massimo’s refusal to draw a basic blueprint and insistence on hazy artistic principles, Isolde and Massimo begin a passionate affair, as displayed at one point with a graphic sex scene.
At its best, “Isolde” presents individuals struggling to defend their needs and viewpoints, which often they cannot actually articulate. Vazquez is especially compelling as the alternatively excited and bemused Isolde. The spare set, which looks half-finished, conveys how the characters are emotionally stalled.
By the same token, it is a strange, slow, often puzzling work full of pauses and aimless pontificating. The actors deliver their lines in a disconnected, flat manner, which can be off-putting to those unfamiliar with Maxwell’s stylized aesthetic.
If you go: “Isolde” plays at the Polonsky Shakespeare Center through Sept. 27. 262 Ashland Place, Brooklyn. tfana.org.