An indifferent prince
Otherwise Engaged shows that the true price of comfort can sometimes be joy
Life can be a real pain, especially when it keeps happening to you, without asking permission. When all you really want is a moment to yourself, other people can really get in the way. All Simon Hench (Bradford D. Ka’ai’ai) wants is to listen to his new Wagner CD in peace.
Otherwise Engaged, written by Simon Gray and directed by Dr. Bob Dillard, is the latest comedic production by the the Nevada Repertory Company. Originally premiering in 1970s London, Otherwise Engaged is the story of one man desperately trying to accommodate those around him so that he can find his own corner of happiness. In avoiding and smoothing over the problems of his friends, Simon Hench hopes to distract everyone long enough to lose himself in his music. Between the demands of friendship, the duties of hosting and the diplomacies of conversation, however, solitude is not to be his fate.
Ka’ai’ai’s depiction of this deceptively quiet and genial book publisher is wonderfully subtle. Unflinchingly passionless, Hench deadpans faked interest for those around him, excusing himself from any serious entanglements. He offers his deadbeat upstairs tenant, Dave (Mike Geraghty), money and liquor to get him out of the house for a few hours. He half-listens to the anxieties of his ebullient brother, Stephen (Michael Peters), and megalomaniac best friend, Jeff Golding (Gary L. Metzker), without understanding, or caring about, their frustration at his apparent inability to remember the details.
The realistic living room set is the focus of this “theater in the square.” Hench’s corner of the world, neat and orderly, is regularly invaded by the chaotic influences of excitable people. With the set’s diamond-shaped floor plan, Simon Hench’s cube of reality is set askew, separated from the rest of the world.
Much of this work is deceptive, or at least not what it seems. On the surface it is a quest for peace and quiet amid the babble of conversation. But hidden beneath the babble is a quest for action that has consequence; beneath the silence lies sterility. Latent themes of power, comfort, emotion and avoidance are disguised as witty repartee. By the end, the audience’s initial sympathies have been directed elsewhere.
The least deceptive thing is the talent of the cast. Each actor’s portrayal of a “typical” character is played with amusing precision. Metzger’s Golding comes off as a jerk, at first. Maurice Palermo is a believable sexually repressed and obsessed Wood, confronting Hench with imagined wrongdoing (which Hench goes along with so as not to upset the poor man even further).
Hench’s lack of zest for life and flaccid hospitality, while ingratiating and accommodating, is not exactly endearing. Davina Saunders (Megan Etcheto), a predatory writer, laughs at his defensive, and seemingly missing, libido. His wife, Beth (Mikola Fuller) does whatever she can to draw any kind of emotional reaction out of him, silently screaming that life with him is a quick route to insanity.
A surprisingly engaging option for a weekend night, Otherwise Engaged raises debatable issues without directly discussing them. The laughs are there, used sparingly and with precision, and many of them mirror bitterly the activities, engagements and social sidestepping of modern life.