Volume II, Issue II Summer 2003

'The Country' gets lost in empty wordplay

Review by Jim Trageser

The Country
Written by Martin Crimp
Directed by Lisa Peterson

La Jolla Playhouse
Mandell Weiss Forum
University of California, San Diego campus
Through August 31


Martin Crimp's new play, "The Country" (now in its American premiere at the La Jolla Playhouse), is 90 minutes of playing around with words.

It's not a narrative, but a snapshot revealed in portions. There is no story per se; nothing really happens except that different aspects of a troubled marriage and medical practice slowly come to light.

And the characters learn no more about themselves than the audience does; so there is not only no resolution, but not even any palpable growth or movement.

There is just this troubled marriage, this endangered career.

The Country And wordplay. Lots of wordplay that is apparently meant to be quite clever and sophisticated but ends up being rather tedious.

Crimp's dialogue in "The Country" is intentionally unnatural. Now that's not always bad; real people never talk like the characters in a Hemingway story or a Tennessee Williams play, for instance.

But Crimp's conversations don't even enough of a personal style to make the forced dialogue a delight of wordplay – he's no Edward Albee, for instance.

That seems to be the aim of "The Country" – to be a modern version of "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf." But the exchanges in "The Country" don't have the crisp volley and return of Albee, nor the relentless pace.

And they're quite frankly just not as interesting.

The actors are surprisingly good in the roles they're handed, and make a game effort and breathing some life into these forced words. Gary Cole is convincingly oily as the duplicitous Richard, a man who shuns emotional intimacy even within his own heart. Emily Bergl gives a wanton breeziness to the young woman who comes into Richard and Corinne's home, while Catherine Dent imbues Corinne with the desperation of a woman trying to hang on to her illusions.

The set by Rachel Hauck has the feel of a large country house; she accomplishes this with just a few set pieces and a couple of wooden beams.

But good acting and an effective set can only go so far by themselves. And in the case of "The Country," their journey is mostly unaccompanied by story.

Jim Trageser is a writer and editor living in Escondido, Calif.

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