September 11, 2009, by Joe Nickell, Missoulian
At some point in life, we all have nights like this. The kid is crying, the cupboard is bare, and then, a surprise knock at the door. In Yasmina Reza’s 2000 play, “Life x 3,” Henry and his wife Sonia get three chances to make that night turn out all right, even as unexpected guests Hubert and his wife, Inez, connive to make a mess of it.
Sounds like a promising premise, especially coming from the pen of one of the most celebrated playwrights of the past two decades, Yasmina Reza (whose “Art” was presented by Montana Actors’ Theatre two years ago). And let’s not forget that the deja-vu, what-if-we’d-done-things-different theme is central to two of the most beloved Hollywood films of the past half-century, “It’s a Wonderful Life” and “Groundhog Day.”
In this case, though, our central characters have no idea that they’re getting a second – and third – chance. Moreover, it’s not altogether clear whether they’re even the same people going through the same scenario: In one version of the night,
6-year-old Arnaud cries constantly as his cowed and querulous parents admit to their guests that the child doesn’t know how to get himself a glass of water; in a different version, a sparkling Sonia proudly boasts of Arnaud’s independence.
Therein lies the subtle trouble, both in Reza’s script and MAT’s production at the Crystal Theatre. Sonia and Henry, portrayed here by local theater veterans Sarina Hart and David Mills-Low, may simply be having a bad night in the first instance, a drunken night in the second, and a detached night in the third. Or, maybe, we’re encountering three different couples with the same faces, names, address and clothes. Same, in essence, goes for Hubert and Inez (Nathan Mctague and Michelle Edwards).
Especially given the outcome of each night (spoiler alert here), we’re left wondering if Reza’s underlying point is that facts trump character, or that character trumps mood, or that fate trumps everything. Though the four-way dynamics change in each of the three acts, the coda begins to ring too familiar by the final curtain.
One could look at the play as nothing more than a set of variations on a theme; and in that respect, the MAT cast keeps a snappy rhythm throughout, providing plenty of laughs to offset the uncomfortable scenario. Mills-Low’s simpering, slumping failure of an astrophysicist in the first act transforms satisfyingly in each subsequent act; the same is true, to somewhat varying degrees, of the other three characters.
Humor then begins to emerge in unexpected places, as recurring lines (such as Hubert’s “Having said that…”) and subtle turns on what is said and not said take on layered significance.
It was Friedrich Nietzsche who spoke most eloquently and deeply about the beauty of cosmic cycles, or what he called the “eternal return.”
“My formula for human greatness is amor fati (love of fate): that one wants to have nothing different, not forward, not backward, not in all eternity,” Nietzsche wrote.
Yasmina Reza’s treatment of this theme isn’t entirely loving, nor entirely great; but there are worse ways to spend an evening, once anyway.