Presented by and at La MaMa E.T.C., 74A E. Fourth St., NYC, May 4-18.
Oren Safdie's new play, "Private Jokes, Public Places," is a thorny problem. It successfully turns the theatre into a classroom at a graduate architecture college where student work is being juried. On the other hand, it tells you more than you would ever want to know about architecture juries—unless you're an architect. As the son of a famous architect, the playwright would know his milieu. Despite this, Craig Carlisle's production has an air of artificiality about it.
When the audience enters the intimate First Floor Theatre at La MaMa, the playing area is set with three chairs, an architectural model, and three architectural drawings attached to the back wall. When the play begins, William, a college professor, is escorting two guests around the students' projects: Erhardt, a famous German architect, and Colin, a famous British architectural theorist. After Margaret, a Korean-American student, makes her presentation of her model, a swimming pool designed to demonstrate her theories of public spaces, the all-male jury of Western Caucasians begins the critique. William is immediately avuncular, Erhardt is quickly sexual, and Colin is clearly contemptuous.
The scene in which the two guests attempt to take apart the model and make it into something else ought to be hilarious, but is only mildly amusing. When the guests make Margaret cry, we aren't shocked. When we discover that William has been sleeping with Margaret, we ought to be outraged, but it doesn't cross our minds.
At all times, the performers seem to be acting. As Margaret, M.J. Kang often seems delayed in her reaction time to the insults. Fritz Michel's college professor is bland and ineffectual, certainly a credible choice. David Chandler's Erhardt is only sometimes German; for Graeme Malcolm, Colin's way of indicating contempt is to opt out most of the time.