In the spirit of schadenfreude, competition between friends or colleagues can offer an audience a wealth of guilty pleasures. In The Four of Us, Benjamin lands a lucrative book deal for a novel, leaving longtime friend David, a struggling playwright, envious and dumbfounded.
Wickedly funny dialogue fills the first 25 minutes as Benjamin (Sean Glazebrook) shares details about publication and movie rights, and an offer to get David (Zach Rogers) screenwriting work is met with begrudging thanks and the suggestion that some types of success come at the price of aesthetic merit. But their friendship has always had imbalances and exchanges of both subtle and pointed criticism. David admires Benjamin's independence and good instincts, and he also seems to know Benjamin is more talented and focused. Glazebrook and Rogers turn in great performances as supportive but sharp-witted, ego-battling friends.
While their friendship is a central concern, the play carries some professional baggage. Perhaps it is inevitable since the playwright, Itamar Moses, received an Master of Fine Arts degree from NYU, has taught creative writing, and took on familiar material for this work. (The work is rumored to mirror elements of his friendship with a successful novelist.) The play includes considerable debate about writerly concerns such as the merits of graduate writing programs versus simply getting to work. Some of that material comes off as academic, and at times the story struggles to move forward. Entire flashback scenes offer little further insight than what was revealed in early foreshadowing. Moses, however, manages to put a clever spin on the writing workshop mantra of "write what you know." The piece could use a more dramatic or less superfluous conclusion, but it's still a pleasing comedy. — Will Coviello
Thru. Sept. 5
The Four of Us
8 p.m. Thu.-Sat.; 6 p.m. Sun.
Cabaret Le Chat Noir, 715 St. Charles Ave., 581-5812; www.southernrep.com