The Yeats Game follows the philosophical conundrums of two married couples as they spend a weekend together at a cabin in the mountains contemplating "verisimilitude" (and, ehm, Viagra) and tossing sexual innuendos at one another. The intersection of their intellectual and hormonal playfulness is a board game called The Yeats Game, which seems to be a cross between Monopoly and Strip Poker ("Take off one article of clothing," instructs a game card; "How sophomoric!" snaps the character who has drawn this giddy instruction). The game, as it turns out, is rigged: as one character explains to another, there is not enough opportunity built into the game to enable anyone to accrue enough points to win.
Thatís a serviceable enough metaphor for life, and for the discontents (and last-gasp passions) of what Roninís script terms "the pre-geezer years." Each of the four characters carries the weight of some point of civilized existence on his or her shoulders; Bobby (Fred Robbins) is a businessman facing cash flow woes; his wife Ellie (Liz Robbins) is a local politician, the town mayor, facing private terrors (thereís a hint that sheís suffering from cancer); Jack (Phil Thompson) is a poet and college professor troubled by two very serious charges, one of plagiarism and one of sleeping with a student; and Margaret (Emily Sinagra), Jackís wife, is a psychotherapist who could stand to turn her professional skills on her own affect, which ranges wildly from a paralyzing concern with "appropriate" behavior to frankly provocative conduct.
Giggling in their cabin like a crew of adolescents, the two couples treat The Yeats Game like a superficially more mature version of Spin the Bottle; the surprise is not that wives end up in the wrong beds with each othersí husbands, but rather what secrets have been tucked into those self-same blankets for years, and where those secrets have taken four individuals, and two marriages. When the next day dawns, confessions must be made--and plans unraveled--as the two couples start to realize that they are both closer, and less close, than they had imagined.
The acting cannot be faulted: each performer seems perfectly cast for his or her role, with Fred Robbins roaring and chuckling as Bobby and Thompson turning in a nuanced, thoughtful interpretation of Jack. Liz Robbins (Fred Robbinsí real-life wife) allows Ellie to be forceful and vulnerable by turns; and Sinagra understands that shrinks are often the best candidates for therapy, themselves, and marries her characterís two wildly divergent states of mind into a shapely whole. M. Lynda Robinsonís direction integrates story and performances gracefully, not an easy task when the script is so full of ideas and wrinkles: "I" and "we" lose their meanings in a funny and meaningful way, and while mortality looms over the story, the production boils with life.
The script is fraught with wordplay and texture, and it pulls the veil off the couples and their lives with just the right pacing and panache. Where the play hits trouble, however, is when its farcical impulses carry over first into the surreal, and then into the meta-fictive. Attending a funeral where the deceased is invisible to the audience and ambiguous to the characters, our four protagonists are suddenly less authentic. Who is in the casket? Is it somehow one of them? Is it a person, or rather a principle, perhaps a quality they may have lost individually and collectively?
The play toys with the audience and gets up to some self-referential tomfoolery (Bobbie growls his disappointment to think that he may have found himself in a "morality play"), but withholds the philosophical payoff as one last raffish jape.
Kilian Melloy - Edge