Nothing is as it seems in “Private Eyes,” a witty Steven Dietz knockoff of Tom Stoppard, in production at the J City Theater in Jersey City. What starts out as an arrogant director auditioning an actress for a part turns into something very different when he repairs next door for lunch, and something very different again when another director appears on the scene.
Before long, we’re asking ourselves: OK, is this the play within the play, or is there another layer? Are we watching something real, or a dream or a cuckolded husband’s revenge fantasy or a rehearsal? And what’s real anyway, given that we are in a church basement off Hamilton Park, craning our necks around support columns to see the action?
Because nothing is quite as it seems at this theater, either.
The setting would suggest a kind of bargain basement entertainment. But the company, in which nearly everyone seems to be wearing multiple hats, pulls off a very stylish entertainment. You have to like a show where everybody in the cast wears sunglasses indoors at some point.
Sandy Cockrell directs with verve and plays Lisa, the leading lady with a fine actressy bravado and insecurity. Her real-life husband Clay Cockrell is her stage husband Matthew, believable as both petty tyrant and sad sack making stuff up for his therapist. Clay is also executive producer for J City.
Vincent Ticali manages to be both prissy and virile as a visiting artist, a British director on the prowl for new conquests. And Eileen Gaughan is flat-out hilarious in multiple roles, especially, in fedora and, naturally, sunglasses, a Jersey-inflected private investigator. “I prefer ‘dick,’” she informs a somewhat awed Matthew.
Steven Dietz is a rare playwright, one who’s managed to make a living without much in the way of New York productions. The folks at J City are doing justice to one of his better-known works.
“Private Eyes” continues this weekend and next at J City Theater at St. Michael’s Church, 252 Ninth Street, Jersey City.