We know D.C. Get our free newsletter to stay in the know.
From flattery and acting, to evasion, to lies and betrayal, Steven Dietz’s Private Eyes explores the consequences of dishonesty. Actors Lisa (Tiffany Fillmore) and Matthew (Chad Tyler) are married, and Lisa has embarked on an affair with their play’s director, Adrian (Deryl Davis). Matthew both knows and doesn’t know what’s going on, but when Lisa would like to tell him, Adrian insists, “You don’t just come out and tell someone the truth, not after you’ve gotten away with something.” The playwright is also not telling the truth. Events we think are real might be scenes from the play within the play, and bizarre behavior turns out to be fantasies or memories being relayed to a therapist (Chris Poverman) or to a mysterious waitress-cum-private-eye (Elizabeth Darby). Matthew tries many ploys in his imagination to get Lisa to confess, to declare her regret and her love for him, but she decides she fulfilled her honesty quota back when she first met him and told him not to expect fidelity. Pompous, self-centered Adrian (the character requires an English accent and sexual charisma, neither of which Davis delivers) is in town only for this one job, but he’s got his own tangled web to deal with. Director Deborah Kirby has a tough assignment; she must repeatedly pull the rug out from under the audience while keeping the action seamless. The Journeyman Theater Ensemble’s production owes its elegant look to set and lighting designer David Ghatan. The multilevel set, fringed by screens, establishes a restaurant, a therapist’s office, and a rehearsal hall without crowding. Kaleidoscopic projections create a moody backdrop to the action. Shawn Matthews and Andy Zipf also deserve mention, for the show’s original music. Among the cast, Tyler, whose red-rimmed eyes in Act 2 betray his knowledge that things are not going to work out as he hopes, stands out in his portrayal of the lovesick cuckold. The playwright is often amusing, and on one level, it’s pretty easy for him to prove his thesis—that lies and adultery hurt people. But the moral of Private Eyes isn’t quite as simple as lies are bad, truth is good. The characters didn’t get where they are in one step; rather, they have worked their way through thousands of tiny actions and decisions that have led them down paths they wouldn’t have chosen. Dietz is telling us to mind the seemingly inconsequential obfuscations we are tempted to make every day. His convoluted plot tricks keep us engaged for quite a while—but of course, there may come a point when we get sick of being lied to.