If ever there was an anti-Valentine's Day play to open in the month of February, Peter Greenberg's Talking It Over would certainly take the cake. Greenberg's engrossing world-premiere adaptation of Julian Barnes' novel of the same name for Lifeline Theatre is a bracing astringent on failed romance and broken friendships.
Like the novel, Talking It Over is told Rashomon-style by the participants in a love triangle. Details are challenged and perspectives vary on exactly what happened depending upon who is soliloquizing. Assigning blame isn't clear-cut, since everyone screws over the other in one way or another.
Talking It Over focuses on two British chums and the woman they both come to obsess over. Stuart ( John Ferrick ) is a mild-mannered and none-too-confident accountant who relies on his attractive and pompous free-soul friend, Oliver ( Chris Hainsworth ) , for confidence. When Stuart starts dating an art restorer named Gillian ( Elise Kauzlaric ) , he includes Oliver along for the ride.
Problem is that once Stuart and Gillian marry, Oliver finds that he has become besotted with his best friend's wife and takes steps to win her over. The lies and hidden feelings between the three spiral, causing the triangle to reconfigure and eventually fracture.
Greenberg's dramatization draws you in and grasps your attention, painting a nuance-filled picture of the difficulty of maintaining a relationship that gets glossed over in many romantic dramas. If there are any quibbles to be had, some character motivations aren't fully convincing when spoken aloud vs. the way they might be internalized in a novel. The latter half of the play also ends abruptly, which might leave some audiences disappointed when the conclusion isn't spelled out concretely, especially after the tell-all nature of the play up to that point.
Director Dorothy Milne is adept at drawing out the confusion, hurt and anger of her stellar actors, who pour out their hearts. There's also some fun to be had with Katie McLean as the gossipy friend Val, who has outrageous suppositions on her friends' behavior. And Ann Wakefield does a solid job of playing three different characters from a dowdy landlady to Gillian's worldly-wise French mother.
To cleverly illustrate the characters‚ shifting and differing perspectives, set designer Andre LaSalle has created a series of painted canvases that are similar but slightly skewed as well. Maggie Fullilove-Nugent's sometimes murky lighting design simultaneously highlights the characters' bitterness while sharpening the focus on what they have to say.
To be sure, Talking It Over isn't everyone's idea of date-night material. Yet the play's intelligent and unflinching look at love is a welcome splash of cold water to counter the simplified lovey-dovey depictions of romance we're typically force-fed this time of year.
Playwright: Peter Greenberg . At: Lifeline Theatre, 6912 N. Glenwood . Phone: 773-761-4477; $15-$25 . Runs through: March 23