A Thought in Three Parts

In staging Wallace Shawn's famously unproduced and pornographic A Thought in Three Parts, it'd be so easy to stumble or misjudge, but Rubber Repertory has gotten almost everything stunningly right

Arts Review

A Thought in Three Parts

The Vortex, through May 26. Running time: 1 hr, 40 min

There are a few theatre companies in this city that could've done well by A Thought in Three Parts, Wallace Shawn's finely tuned, tripartite script about relationships and the sex that spices or even fuels such relationships. Not many companies, but a few. There are, of course, many that would've rendered it less than well, with less than professional excellence, perhaps to the point of Good Christ, What a Lame Piece of So-Called Entertainment to Have to Sit Through for an Hour and a Half. I mean, easily. It's a shit business.

But luckily for Austin, luckily for Mr. Shawn all the way up there in New York City, Rubber Repertory is one of the few; it seems they're also the only company in the entire United States with the cojones necessary to present this partially but exuberantly pornographic show – offering its American premiere nigh on three decades after it was written.

Which is not to suggest that Rubber Repertory can do no wrong. Sure they can; they can, potentially, do lots of wrong. They just haven't done wrong this time. They haven't, in fact, done anything wrong. And, even when it'd be so easy to slip and stumble or misjudge or overcompensate, they've done so many things stunningly right.

Three parts, to this play. The first, a scene between a husband and wife in a hotel room. Adriene Mishler and Mark Stewart perform their roles with perfect aplomb, with nonpareil timing. There's no sex here; no nudity, either. Instead, there's the brittle air of two people unable (or unwilling) to connect, until a complex and contentious mating ritual plays out between them: with extreme politeness and civility, with suppressed emotions scratching below the engineered surface of hearts and on the verge of clawing through at any moment. Imagine: Tennessee Williams writing a Saturday Night Live sketch.

And the relative barbarity of the next part, the sexual abandon (such that "abandon" is a corseted, petticoated understatement) of the next part is foreshadowed only subtly: by the woman's wearing a pearl necklace with the first of several newly purchased outfits she models for her affection-starved mate. Surely that wasn't mere coincidence: Directors Matt Hislope, Josh Meyer, and Carlos Treviño are both too canny and too joyously perverse for that to have been coincidence.

The second part of this play requires all the canniness and perversion the directors can bring to bear, and they certainly rise to the occasion. Hislope and Meyer literally rise, gamely portraying the two major male roles in this extended scene, set in a youth hostel, in which there's so much rampant (albeit simulated) sex and (actual) full-frontal nudity and vigorous genitalia-brandishing that Ron Jeremy himself would've asked for hazardous-duty pay. (Luckily for the audience, Hislope and Meyer, not to mention Rosaruby Glaberman and Kelli Bland, are way easier on the eyes than the Hedgehog and his ilk.) Katy bar the door (and bring an umbrella while you're at it): People are fucked, cocks are sucked, cunts are licked, consciences pricked, even a sort of competitive bukkake is, um, perpetrated; and if there's any justice at all in the world, the Austin Critics Table will eventually award this show a citation for, at least, "Most Enthusiastically Sustained Use of a Flexible Dildo" to Ms. Glaberman.

Imagine: The poet Russell Edson writing a letter to Penthouse Forum. Imagine: It's all gut-bustingly funny.

Finally, the show is wrapped up by the character of Mr. Frivolous, who delivers (from his elegantly appointed and perfectly lighted breakfast nook) a short, stream-of-consciousness monologue about his life and a few of the quotidian and exotic joys within it. David Yeakle, ladies and gentlemen, performing at the very pinnacle of his considerable skills.

The night I was there, the house was packed and the applause was thunderous. I suspect it'll be the same for the remaining nights, and with good reason – implied above and spelled R-U-B-B-E-R-R-E-P-E-R-T-O-R-Y.

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A Thought in Three Parts, Wallace Shawn, Rubber Repertory, Matt Hislope, Josh Meyer, Carlos Treviño

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