An unsettling glimpse into the dynamics of a destructive love triangle and its aftereffects, The Waiting Game is a study of betrayal and one man’s descent into near-madness. Originally staged at 59E59 Theater before moving to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, this disturbing play returns to New York for another long run.
Paolo has a new lover in Tyler, but he has guarded – and girded himself – with drugs and an increasingly cold and unavailable demeanor. Glib and sarcastic, he is in mourning for his husband, Sam, who has overdosed and is in a vegetative state in hospital. Jeff, Sam’s lover, is also mourning him; Paolo and Jeff come together in awkward, angry grief over the man they shared, as they each lay claim to him. Tragedy and mistrust unite this unlikely pair, the banker and the hustler. As the narrative unfolds, the truth about Paolo and Sam’s marriage is slowly revealed, and Paolo descends into deeper levels of self-destruction and even delusion.
Sam himself wanders and shuffles behind the set, haunting his lovers left behind. They can not only feel his presence (“What if his soul is still here? What if Sam isn’t as brain dead as the doctors say?”), he appears to be communicating with Paolo from beyond the veil. It’s an interesting conceit: Sam’s spirit is alive, while Paolo becomes more unfeeling and shut down.
The play does a wonderful job exploring power dynamics and the longing for commitment. Tyler, as Paolo’s lover, clearly sees how damaged Paolo is but puzzlingly doesn’t walk away, even after being belittled and pointedly rejected. Jeff, as the play’s only fully honest character, finally confronts him: “Can’t you see his heart is full of someone else?” And it is Jeff who angrily explains to Paolo the truth about his relationship with Sam, and Sam’s intentions. As the truth outs, the drama startling explodes.
A rectangle outlined on the stage is lined with props: books, magazines, drug pipes, and booze. The players move the props in and out of the box as the drama unfolds. Behind the stage, where Sam lingers in his purgatory, words pulled from the dialogue appear on a backdrop and begin to scramble, a literal view of how communication becomes skewed and fragmented. Director Nathan Wright, projection designer Kat Sullivan, and set designer Riw Rakkulchon have collaborated to find an unusual way to dramatize souls in limbo.
The drama ends with a beautifully idealized alternate reality that is the perfect close to this compact tragedy.