For any of you losers who’ve ever loved and lost and mused, pined, ruminated, obsessed, questioned, analyzed, beat yourself up and otherwise lost your shit, it may not be the best idea to see the world premiere of Michael Mitnick’s The Siegel. It’s not that it’s a bad play in any regard. It’s as sharp as the pop of a whip, entertaining and endearing. But it also may break the last shard of any heart you still possess.
Two years after he broke up with her, Ethan has realized that Alice is the one true love of his life, and he is hell-bent on proposing to her. The only problem, besides the fact that he broke her heart? She’s in an apparently fulfilling relationship with Nelson, the guy she cheated with while dating Ethan. But Ethan has apparently had enough time to realize she’s The One, and he’s shown up at the home of Alice’s parents to ask them for permission to propose to their daughter. It doesn’t go as planned, but that doesn’t stop Ethan from pursuing his campaign.
That premise unfolds swiftly in the capable hands of director Casey Stangl. Less about the possibility of love than its impossibility, The Seigel wrestles with the kind of questions that, on the page and stage, make for more than adequate dramatic and comedic fodder, but in real life, they are just so goddamn exhausting. Soulmates: Is there truly someone for everyone? At what point is the thin line between love and compulsive obsession inextricably crossed? And when does loving someone else mean losing yourself?
That may sound somber and dreadful—it is. Love is a bitch. And Mitnick’s play doesn’t gloss that over. But he approaches it in such a fresh, funny way that even though you get the sense that all of this is just the romantic, slightly stalky, dream of one screwed-up guy, you can’t help but root for him.
And that guy is Ben Feldman’s Ethan, who shares many of the characteristics of the attorney Feldman plays on Silicon Valley, Ron LaFlamme. He’s charismatic, self-indulgent, sarcastic and seemingly oblivious to how his actions affect the people around him. Those people include Alice (Mamie Gummer); Nelson (Dominique Worsley); and her parents, Deborah (Amy Aquino), and Ron (Matthew Arkin). There’s also Jordan (Devon Sorvari), who appears in the play’s final scene, which may be the fly in this particular ointment, as her appearance seems to suggest there is more than a slightly mercenary quality to Ethan.
But Feldman’s energy and inner life manifested into the external fake reality of this play outweigh the possible fact that his character is, possibly, a big dick. Yes, his motives may not be purely romantic and less about reclaiming Alice than doubts about a different relationship, but Feldman’s ability to convey interest in his plight is a sterling example of how the old adage that characters must be likeable is bullshit. No, they should be interesting. And Feldman’s Ethan is certainly that.
As are Alice’s parents. Aquino, who plays a key role in the Amazon original series Bosch (and yes, a PR person hit up OC Weekly with that information and we’re running with it, so now you have an insider look at the corrupt side of Fake News!), and Arkin have a relationship that resembles your favorite pair of broken-in shoes. There’s a possibility that it may be time for a new pair, but they’re so comfortable and you’re so fond of them, even if they’re fraying around the edges, so what’s the point in replacing them? At some points, The Siegel seems to be as much about their relationship as the one Ethan is trying to rekindle with Alice. Rather than a distraction, it points to the possibility that love doesn’t necessarily have to be frantic and desperate, that it’s something to be eased into with patience and pragmatism.
But, really, even though your mama told you not to do it, the only real fun is staring into the sun. That is alluded to in the play’s key line, when Ethan tells Alice that he’s afraid she may be the one person he’s supposed to be with. When heard in context, it doesn’t particularly stand out. But reflect on them, and those words reverberate with a poignant, problematic resonance. To paraphrase a certain Nobel laureate who rhymes a great deal, an awful truth is revealed when one realizes how sweet life can be, for that sweetness can evaporate or turn bitter so quickly. And even though every one of those situations is unique, they’re also brutally similar. So, while the play’s title, The Siegel, is an homage to Anton Chekhov’s The Seagull, with its complicated and fatalistic romantic entanglements, it could just as easily have been titled Every Fucking Day on This Sad Bitch of an Earth.
The Siegel at South Coast Repertory, 655 Town Center, Costa Mesa, (714) 708-5555; www.scr.org. Tues.-Wed., 7:30 p.m.; Thurs.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2:30 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2:30 & 7:30 p.m. Through April 23. $20-$79.
Joel Beers has written about theater and other stuff for this infernal rag since its very first issue in, when was that again???