Men are horny dogs who lie to women for sex, and because women are afraid to be alone they sometimes go along with it.
That seems to be the statement of Mayo Simon’s new play “Split” which Aurora Theater opened Thursday in its world premiere at Berkeley’s City Club.
In the set-up of this triangle love story, which runs about 90 minutes without an intermission, a 61-year-old married man flies to Los Angeles to meet his 50-something secret lover because she has announced that she is getting married and ending their affair.
As East Coast college philosophy professor Arthur (Owen Murphy) and West Coast theater grant-writer Clare (Elizabeth Benedict) review their relationship, “Split” appears as though it is going to be about the painful rejection process at the end of a relationship.
Divorced now for 10 years, Clare explains to Arthur that her engagement to a new suitor is her last chance for marriage. So she wants to shift the relationship with Arthur to “friends” status.
As they talk about their history, and deal with Arthur’s hurt and jealously, Arthur slowly tries to insinuate himself back into Clare’s life, and sabotage her new romance.
Appearing from time to time in the course of the story is a third character known as “The Speaker” (Jack Powell).
The Speaker is usually audible only to Arthur. He gives Arthur occasional destructive advice on how to trick Clare, or how to break down her resistance, or how to get sex from her and then abandon her.
The Speaker appears at various times as an airline pilot, a waiter, an airport skycap, a pizza delivery man, and a homeless woman on the beach.
But “Split” ultimately is an unsatisfying experience. The script wanders back and forth over the same repeated territory, circling around the emotional issues, instead of dealing with them. The play feels slow.
After 90 minutes of slogging through their baggage, Arthur and Clare aren’t able to find any new understandings about themselves or their lives in this difficult situation.
Although a climax breakdown scene near the end is one of the play’s more real moments, Arthur and Clare don’t seem to come out of it wiser or changed.
Further, the morose, self-pitying Arthur is an unsympathetic character, making it hard for an audience to care about what happens to him.
Arthur is emotionally dishonest from the top of the play, but not in any particularly new or insightful or illuminating way. He comes across as a just sleazy person who is trying to wreck Clare’s life simply out of childish selfishness.
“Split” marks the local directing debut of set designer Loy Arcenas. Arcenas created the wonderful, versatile set earlier this season for American Conservatory Theater’s production of Tom Stoppard’s play about A. E. Housman, “Invention of Love.”
But missing from Arcenas’ production of “Split” is any sense of romantic chemistry or sexual tension between the two lead characters.
It’s hard to feel in their personal chemistry that Arthur and Clare really like each other. And Clare’s late character reversal to sudden solicitousness for Arthur is hard to believe.
Arcenas also designed the set for “Split” – an effective nondescript, abstract, upper-middle-class beige hell, variously serving as an airplane interior, an airport, a restaurant bar, a beach at night, and Clare’s apartment.
Producing new plays is a difficult and risky business, and the Aurora has done it twice this season.
In December, the theater staged the world premiere of Le Clanché Du Rand’s wonderful “Transcendental Wild Oats,” the story of a 19th century Massachusetts utopian commune.
Kudos to the Aurora for being real artists, and for taking risks.
Aurora Theater’s “Split” plays Wednesday through Sunday, through July 2, at the Berkeley City Club, 2315 Durant Ave. For tickets and information, call 510-