Most of Nicky Silver's plays could be considered dark comedies, and all involve dysfunctional families of one kind or another. His latest, Three Changes, is perhaps his darkest yet. This time Silver provides intermittent amusing dialogue, but there's none of the witty, fast-paced banter that enlivened his early plays like Raised in Captivity and The Food Chain. It doesn't help that director Wilson Milam often lets the pace get sluggish, especially in the second act.
Things start off promisingly enough. The setting is the handsome Upper West Side apartment of a handsome couple: Morgan Stanley broker Nate (Dylan McDermott of The Practice ) and his wife, magazine designer Laurel (Maura Tierney of ER). Nate has just reunited with his long-lost brother Hal (Scott Cohen), a TV writer-producer who has had some success in Hollywood. It turns out that Hal also developed a drug problem in L.A., has lost all his money, and has nowhere to live. So he invites himself to stay on Nate and Laurel's living-room couch.
Nate doesn't just stay for a night or two but settles in and starts to write about Nate and Laurel. He even invites his much younger boyfriend, Gordon (Brian J. Smith), to move in as well. And the seemingly happy couple apparently isn't so happy. Laurel has had miscarriages, and Nate is having a long-running affair with a Clinique counter girl named Steffi (Aya Cash). Thanks to Hal, however, things are about to get a lot worse for Nate and Laurel. Well, for one of them anyway.
Three Changes explores sibling rivalry, the definition of family, and the lengths some will go to to be part of a family. Although Silver provides unsettling moments, he doesn't create enough dramatic tension. When the brothers have a fight (which is vaguely reminiscent of a much better play about brothers, True West), it isn't very believable. And the aftereffects are even harder to swallow. During the second act there's less action and more long monologues. They feel even longer since Milam has the actors deliver them so slowly. It's a far cry from the quick, smart repartee that put Silver on the map with Pterodactyis and had critics comparing him to Philip Barry.
In this largely somber look at family upheaval, Silver gives most of the funny lines to the supporting characters, Steffi and Gordon. Cash (From Up Here) is well cast as Steffi, who tries to make Nate jealous by dating "Donnie from small appliances." And Smith (Come Back Little Sheba) makes the spoiled Gordon as grating as he is childish. Given few comedic moments, McDermott is at his best when Nate becomes angry and depressed. Tierney is similarly believable, though Laurel's actions can be far-fetched. Cohen (Drunk Enough to Say I Love You) makes the unpredictable Hal just menacing enough.
While Silver has every right to explore dark material, his forte is sophisticated comedy. Here's hoping he returns to lighter, funnier, and faster fare soon. Lord knows we could all use a few laughs these days.