In the new production of Yasmina Reza’s Life x3 by the New Light Theater Project, the host of a disastrous dinner party (Henri) laments the insignificance of human beings and their personal lives in comparison to the universe. One of his guests (Ines) counters that human beings and their personal lives are what make the universe interesting, asking, “Where would the universe be without us?”
This question hangs in the balance throughout the production as we see three versions of the same evening play out. A married couple, Henri and Sonia (James Patrick Nelson and Claire Curtis-Ward), are visited by their dinner guests Hubert and Ines (Dominic Comperatore and Leah Curney) a night earlier than expected. They scramble to entertain them with leftover snacks, a seemingly endless supply of wine, and tense conversation that turns too honest, too quickly.
Some elements of the dinner party – particularly the mood of Henri and Sonia’s unseen, offstage six-year-old – is different in each version of the evening, as ephemeral as the temperament of a real child. Other dynamics between the characters, such as Ines’s frustration with her husband’s disrespect, remains the same in each version, but manifests differently each time. The differences lie not with the characters’ relationships and their myriad attractions or resentments, but with how polite they choose to be in expressing these emotions.
The various dramas play out in a stylishly cold living room against a backdrop of a curtain of stars, the set design highlighting the debate started by Henri and Ines that becomes one of the main questions of the play – arehumans insignificant compared to the universe, or do humans add significance to the universe?
The entertaining nature of the production seems to prove Ines right. The character interactions are fascinating to watch as their personalities bounce off of each other, manifesting in different ways depending on the external factors of the night. The cast is uniformly strong, and James Patrick Nelson has the hardest job, as Henri changes the most in each version but still needs to feel like the same person, and he’s more than up to the challenge.
Each version of the night leaves us at the edge of our seats, wondering how and if everything will fall apart. The drama is helped along by the music composed by Janet Bentley, best described as tense elevator music, highlighting the absurd banality of the situation and the characters’ boiling resentments. Version three, the most polite one, feels lighter in a forced way, as if luring us into a false sense of security and waiting for another ball to drop with a version four that never comes.
Ines asserts that humans add poetry to the universe, but if poetry is four unhappy people forcing themselves to be polite before reaching their breaking point, then maybe Henri is the one with his finger on the ball, and these people imagining that their petty dramas have meaning are the ones fooling themselves. Regardless of who is right (and their is evidence to support both of their points of view), Life x3 is a thrilling way to spend an evening.
Life x3 is playing through December 8th at Urban Stages, 259 W 30th Street.