In Marguerite Duras' intensely hard-to-penetrate drama, Stein (Walter Murray) and Thor (Ryan Higgins) are two Jewish gentlemen staying at an exclusive spa that caters to folks suffering from nervous exhaustion. Stein and Thor are not suffering from such a condition themselves—at least, not at the play's start—but both gradually develop peculiar personality twitches and glitches when they are attracted to sad-faced, mysterious beauty Elizabeth (Amanda Decker). She is residing at the spa while recovering from the death of her young daughter.
When Thor's wife Alissa (Zoe Canner) arrives for a visit to find her husband head-over-heels in love with Elizabeth, she moves in on Stein. Soon a very odd ménage à quatre has developed, everyone pining and moaning over everyone else, until one of the four—and it doesn't take a master sleuth to figure out which one—winds up emotionally destroyed.
At least, that is what Duras' simmering drama seems to be about. But it's a good thing that the play takes place at a sanitarium, as it obviates the necessity for the characters to behave logically. Indeed the storyline is so oblique and maddening, what's actually happening is anyone's guess. Duras' mostly coldly uninvolving characters don't act like real people, and the writing is so suffused with uncertainty that it undermines attempts to understand what's going on. Maybe one line in three follows the line before it, and the situations make less and less sense as the story unfolds.
One thing is clear, though: This is a play about the destructive power of desire and how it corrupts and ruins both the desirer and the desiree. Director Matthew Wilder's production is full of bubbling subtext that never really comes to a roiling boil; you'd think you're watching a Tennessee Williams play by the way all the actors leer and ogle, all but wriggling their tongues at one another.
The performances have powerful moments, though: Murray's and Higgins' genial gentlemanliness masks an underlying sexual dynamic that's creepy, while Decker's touching turn as the near-unhinged, grieving mother—staggering around the stage, vacant of face, but indefinably sad—is powerful. Yet this is a play that requires a massive amount of attention and focus to comprehend what's going on—far out of proportion with the depth of content.
"Destroy She Said," presented by Etant Donnes: The Fund for French-American Theatre and the San Diego Black Ensemble Theatre in association with and at Theatre/Theater, 6425 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood. Fri.-Sat. 8 pm. Jan. 14-Feb. 13. $15. (310) 382-0710.