Three on a Match

by Mark Burger

Whatever power or resonance that Stephen Belber’s 2004 play Match yielded on stage has been thoroughly dissipated in the film version, adapted and directed by the playwright himself. What might have worked on stage has been lost in translation.

This three-hander stars Patrick Stewart as Tobias, a dance instructor at Juilliard, and Matthew Lillard and Carla Gugino as Mike and Lisa, the couple who have traveled from Seattle to New York to interview him.

After a few pleasantries, including wine and some hash, the interview about Tobias’ past soon becomes more of an interrogation. Lisa and Mike clearly have an agenda, which is obvious from the moment they are introduced. Mike is convinced that Tobias is his biological father, and though the older man admits to having known and romanced Mike’s late mother, he is adamant that he’s not the father. None of this, however, is particularly compelling, though it quickly becomes overwrought and then even irritating.

Belber has no inclination or ability to rein in the performers, especially Stewart and Lillard, both of whom unleash hammy histrionics throughout.

In theater parlance, they’re playing to the cheap seats. By default, Gugino comes off best, but even her character is pallid. In the end, these are not sympathetic or interesting people. The film’s final plot twist is more the final straw, a supposedly ironic sting that has no potency because it can be seen coming very early on. !