Secrets can eat away at a marriage or a friendship like acid. Spilling those secrets can be even more corrosive.
That is one of the ideas undergirding Ronan Noone’s “Scenes From an Adultery,’’ now receiving its world premiere at New Repertory Theatre, directed by Bridget Kathleen O’Leary.
It’s a promising notion, and there are moments when Noone delivers on that promise. This is, after all, one of the sharpest playwrights around, with an uncommonly good ear for the way people can talk themselves into a jam, as the characters in “Scenes From an Adultery’’ do.
But Noone’s laudable ambition to find an alternative route into the age-old story of infidelity ultimately gets the better of him here.
With a title that echoes Ingmar Bergman’s groundbreaking “Scenes From a Marriage,’’ this is Noone’s second play to premiere in the Boston area this year, after “The Second Girl’’ at Huntington Theatre Company. For “Second Girl,’’ Noone crafted a parallel narrative to Eugene O’Neill’s “Long Day’s Journey Into Night’’ that focused on the Tyrone family’s servant, cook, and chauffeur.
Those who found “The Second Girl’’ dull — I did not — may be interested to learn that Noone raises the volume in “Scenes From an Adultery,’’ which is set in the London area. Conflicts simmer, voices are raised, F-bombs fly, and eventually there is a moment of sudden violence.
The playwright has chosen an indirect approach to depict the collateral damage inflicted when a married couple and their longtime friend are drawn into the suspected infidelities of another couple. However, the end result is that the protagonists of “Scenes From an Adultery’’ never fully come into focus, and the play itself remains blurry around the edges. At around 70 minutes, “Scenes’’ is intermittently punchy but overall feels sketchy, underdeveloped, and rushed.
Ciaran Crawford plays Gasper, a 40-ish ladies’ man who is the longtime friend of Tony, played by Peter Stray, and Lisa, portrayed by Leda Uberbacher. Gasper is having an affair with the daughter of a mutual friend they call Phil the Squid, unbeknownst to Phil.
But the dominoes that unexpectedly begin to topple have to do with a different set of friends, a married couple named Dean and Corinne (who, like Phil, are not seen during the play). Gasper tells Tony that he saw Corinne acting cozy with a man who was not Dean. In a subsequent encounter, Gasper confides to Tony that Dean is not blameless: He had been unfaithful to Corinne — a fact that emerged during the couple’s marriage-counseling session. It turns out that Gasper has known about Dean’s infidelity for years. Tony is injured that Dean did not see fit to confide in him, too. “I thought I knew everything about Dean,’’ he says.
Later, when Lisa discovers (by snooping on his cellphone) that Tony had learned of Dean’s infidelity but opted not to tell her, she is furious. Lisa claims that Tony’s silence amounts to a lie and that he has violated her trust in him, asserting: “I think you didn’t tell me because you are trying to hide something. . . [t]hat you hang around with cheaters.’’
From there, the web involving Tony, Lisa, and Gasper grows progressively more tangled. Once the toxin of mistrust is introduced to the relationship among the trio, it spreads, changing their long-comfortable dynamic.
Noone is too gifted a writer not to generate some sparks from all this, but too much of “Scenes From an Adultery’’ requires us to listen to people onstage talking about people offstage, a degree of separation that forces us to experience much of the drama at a certain remove.
Of New Rep’s three cast members, only Crawford really seems to have a fix on his character. He lends Gasper a rakish yet oblivious air, a guy who wreaks havoc by opening the Pandora’s box of gossip but seemingly does not intend to do any harm. Even the worst thing Gasper does in the play seems to happen by accident, at least from his perspective.
Because Stray’s Tony seems frenetic from the start, the impact of later scenes — when we are meant to perceive the character as an average bloke who has begun spinning out of control — is diluted. Uberbacher can’t quite get a handle on Lisa, although the character’s one-dimensionality may be more the playwright’s fault than the actress’s.
SCENES FROM AN ADULTERY
Play by: Ronan Noone
Bridget Kathleen O’Leary
Set, Janie E. Howland.
Costumes, Molly Trainer.
Lights, Christopher Brusberg. Sound, David Remedios.
New Repertory Theatre.
At: Charles Mosesian Theater, Arsenal Center for the Arts, Watertown. Through May 17. Tickets $30-$60, 617-923-8487, www.newrep.org
Don Aucoin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.