Sit-com stars hold their own in ‘The Scene’


By Scott Harrah


Written by Theresa Rebeck

Directed by Rebecca Taichman

Second Stage Theatre

307 West 43rd St.

(212-246-4422; secondstagetheatre.com)

Photo by Joan Marcus

Tony Shalhoub and Patricia Heaton deliver powerful performances in “The Scene.”

Theresa Rebeck’s “The Scene” is loaded with clichés — and surprises. In fact, when the lights come up for intermission, one may feel this is simply a well-acted but fairly standard dramedy about how a younger woman wreaks havoc on a middle-aged married couple in show business. However, within the first 10 minutes of the second act, it’s evident that this is a dark, engrossing drama that borders on the tragic. What is even more promising are the trenchant performances of TV veterans Tony Shaloub (“Monk”) and Patricia Heaton (“Everybody Loves Raymond”) in the lead roles. Heaton is particularly outstanding because her character, Stella—an ambitious but frustrated and emotionally fragile TV talk-show talent booker — is nothing like the smug, wisecracking housewife she played on “Raymond” for a decade. If “The Scene” had been mounted on Broadway, Shaloub and Heaton would certainly earn Tony nominations since both give the most gripping and challenging performances of their careers.

Playwright Theresa Rebeck sets a tone of comic awkwardness — from the sad characters to the wry dialogue — that manages to work without being particularly funny. “The Scene” will be a welcome surprise for anyone that saw Rebeck’s last off-Broadway play at Second Stage, the disappointing drama “The Water’s Edge.” Anna Camp brilliantly plays the manipulative young blonde airhead Clea, a wannabe actress who just moved to New York from Ohio six months ago. Shaloub plays Charlie, an unemployed aging actor who’s financially dependent on his wife, is overwrought over having to kiss up to an old actor friend who may or may not land him a role on a TV pilot, and as a result seems on the verge of a breakdown. Charlie and his pal Lewis (Christopher Evan Welch) meet Clea while hanging outside on a rooftop terrace at a swank Manhattan party. She rambles on annoyingly about a job interview she had that day for a talk show, and complains about the woman with whom she met, which turns out to be Charlie’s wife.

The next day, after an unsuccessful business lunch about the TV pilot, Charlie heads for Lewis’s apartment. Clea is there having a cocktail with Lewis, and Charlie delivers a self-deprecating monologue about his plight that quickly piques the interest of the woman. What ensues is fairly predictable and would not be nearly as powerful without such a strong ensemble cast and Rebecca Taichman’s first-rate direction.

Camp’s Clea is fascinating indeed. She imbues the character with the just the right amount of sexiness and devious charm. As pathetic a villainess as Clea is, Camp has audiences riveted to her blathering tirades and vile behavior. Although it is truly difficult for anyone to feel sorry for Charlie when he falls for her, Shaloub adds enough intensity and depth to the character that we pity him instead of simply thinking he gets what he deserves.

Of course, it is Stella that we root for, and her many meltdowns and justifiable contempt for her husband’s adulterous actions are nothing less than incandescent as portrayed by Heaton. Anyone expecting “The Scene” to be a humorous insiders’ look at New York show business may be slightly disappointed, but as a morality tale about the disintegration of a marriage, it is potent stuff indeed.