“Genius” puts a New York spin on art, egos, marriage

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“Genius” is so New York. And that is not just because Kate Walbert’s 75-minute play, now in its world premiere by Profiles Theatre, shifts between the upscale Soho loft of a successful and impossibly smug couple (one a painter/museum director and the other a writer), and the railroad flat in the newly gentrified but still shabby Bushwick section of Brooklyn that is home to a couple of younger, still struggling, but already recognized filmmakers whose marriage is anything but ideal.

The play also is disturbingly neo-feminist in the way it suggests that men cannot deal with the success of their wives, that motherhood invariably undermines a woman’s career, and that the competition between women may be even more pernicious than that between men. But this should come as no surprise to those familiar with Walbert’s novel of linked stories, “A Short History of Women.”

Of course status-seeking among the bohemian set is not confined to the hotbed of such activity that is New York. And the play’s title is even a reference to those prestigious and lucrative “genius” awards made each year by a Chicago-based entity — the MacArthur Foundation. But something about New York can really bring out the very worst (as well as the best) in people.

‘GENIUS’

Somewhat recommended

When: Through My 3

Where: Profiles Theatre, 4147 N. Broadway

Tickets: $35 – $40

Info: (773) 549-1815;

http://www.profilestheatre.org

Run time: 75 minutes with no intermission

“Genius,” directed by Darrell W. Cox (whose ability to use Profiles’ tiny Alley Stage is aided by Michelle Lilly’s set), begins in the wake of a dinner party at which the young couple, Peter (Cale Haupert) and his pregnant wife, Charlotte (Stephanie Chavara), have hosted the older pair, Joel (Robert Breuler), and his wife, Sara (Liz Zweifler). It then circles back to reveal several scenes exposing the betrayals that occur throughout the evening.

As it happens, Joel has just become embroiled in an Anthony Weiner-like scandal, having sexted a photo of his genitals (possibly even a Photoshopped image) to a museum intern far younger than his own daughter. Not surprisingly, his wife Sara, whose career as a Joan Didion-like New Journalist seems to have waned, is furious and humiliated. Joel’s drunkenness doesn’t help.

While Sara looks down her nose at the young documentarians, she actually is envious of them. She also is attracted to Peter, a North Dakota guy who feels inferior to his brainy, New York-born, prep school-bred wife, who he met when they were both students at Wesleyan. In a twisted act of sexual revenge, she uses her ability to nominate a candidate for a MacArthur Fellowship to entice him. As it turns out, Charlotte — terrified that motherhood will destroy her career — can give as good as she gets, and like each of these characters, she indulges in an act of betrayal.

Cale Haupert (left) and Robert Breuler in “Genius,” at Profiles Theatre. (Photo: Michael Brosilow)

Cale Haupert (left) and Robert Breuler in “Genius,” at Profiles Theatre. (Photo: Michael Brosilow)

All in all, “Genius” is a truly depressing picture of marriage and artistic egos — a sort of Internet age version of “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf.” And while there are a couple of scenes that feel organic (Chavara and Haupert have some believable chemistry), much of this play about notably unlikeable people seems forced.

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