We are just about fully recovered from the full-throttle no holds or machinations-barred agenda for success in the world of entertainment, as practiced by a manically aggressive Hollywood agent cum producer in Douglas Carter Beane’s “The Little Dog Laughed.” So, after just a little breather, we now get to follow the man-trap-strewn trail to success of a more insidiously subtle yet dangerously seductive manipulator of those who make “the scene” in Theresa Rebeck’s amusingly caustic play.

Anticipation was high for “The Scene,” which created a positive buzz following its run at last year’s Human Festival of New Plays at the Actors Theater of Louisville, KY. The good news is that “The Scene,” under Rebecca Taichman’s estimably tough and decisive direction, is not a disappointment. And the performances by the four actors are definitively realized. The plot may be a bit predictable, but it moves toward its inevitable and devastating conclusion with wily wit.

Rebeck’s growing canon of cleverly edgy plays such as “The Family of Mann,” “Spike Heels,” “Bad Dates” and “The Butterfly Collection” rarely receive the accolades they deserve. This should change with “The Scene,” a shrewdly observant black comedy that deals with ingredients that prompt good drama such as a character’s susceptibility, gullibility, subsequent entrapment, seduction, and fall. Rebeck does it here with relish.

Charlie, an unemployed actor (Tony Shalhoub), feels the pressure to find work, but not to the point of sucking up to a loathsome high school buddy who has made it big and is possibly willing to offer him a bit role in a film that may or may not get made. He also feels the resulting fallout in his marriage to Stella, a successful TV talk-show talent booker (Patricia Heaton). Stella may be an all work and no play go-getter who takes Charlie for granted, but she is not in the same league, unfortunately, with Clea (Anna Camp), the free-spirited frisky blond temptress fresh from Ohio who goes after who and what she wants on her way up. And that includes Charlie’s best friend Lewis (Christopher Evan Welch).

What might have been just a retelling of the old story vibrates here with contemporary illusions and its share of theatrical resolutions that are nearly always right on the mark. The motor of the play is the dialogue, which is always bracing, funny, and crisp. The play begins on the rooftop terrace of a New York apartment where a scene-making party is in progress. At first, Charlie is condescending if not downright rude to Clea, whose Valley-speak inflections and vapid moralizing define her as profoundly empty headed. Here is an example: Clea — “There were, obviously, there were some things said here, that maybe rubbed you the wrong way, and I am totally willing to talk about that. I mean, I apologize for that. But you were, like, jumping all over me because I said surreal, and I just started to feel stupid. So apologize. If I was edgy or something.” Camp is terrific as the part ditz, part demon femme fatale, who uses her sexual charms with a cute and in an acutely deliberate way. Abandoning her half-hearted seduction of bachelor Lewis for the more challenging Charlie, she brazenly flaunts the affair she subsequently has with Charlie in front of a shocked Stella.

Shalhoub, best known for his award-winning portrayal of Monk in the TV series of the same name but who also has given countless memorable stage performances, gives a dynamite one as the increasingly despairing Charlie, who is unwilling to corrupt his own artistic integrity but yet discovers that he is most vulnerable to everything he hates. Heaton flawlessly captures Stella’s cool self-sufficiency while also making her attractive enough to warrant an unexpected romantic turn of events. Although Welch is fine and often empathetic enough as friend Lewis, his character is less clearly defined than is his apartment, handsomely designed Derek McLane, who also gives a sense of New York chic to the other domicile locations. But best of all, there is the city-chic sensibilities and the site-specific chicanery that permeate “The Scene” that give it its primary and most persuasive character. HHH

— Simon Saltzman

“The Scene,” through Sunday, February 4, unless extended, Second Stage Theater, 307 West 43rd Street. $71.50. 212-246-4422.

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6C Q&A WRITE — B. Emerald ÿ#ÿ#@$:We are just about fully recovered from the full-throttle no holds or machinations-barred agenda for success in the world of entertainment, as practiced by a manically aggressive Hollywood agent cum producer in Douglas Carter Beane’s “The Little Dog Laughed.” So, after just a little breather, we now get to follow the man-trap-strewn trail to success of a more insidiously subtle yet dangerously seductive manipulator of those who make “the scene” in Theresa Rebeck’s amusingly caustic play. Anticipation was high for “The Scene,” which created a positive buzz following its run at last year’s Human Festival of New Plays at the Actors Theater of Louisville, KY. The good news is that “The Scene,” under Rebecca Taichman’s estimably tough and decisive direction, is not a disappointment. And the performances by the four actors are definitively realized. The plot may be a bit predictable, but it moves toward its inevitable and devastating conclusion with wily wit. Rebeck’s growing canon of cleverly edgy plays such as “The Family of Mann,” “Spike Heels,” “Bad Dates” and “The Butterfly Collection” rarely receive the accolades they deserve. This should change with “The Scene,” a shrewdly observant black comedy that deals with ingredients that prompt good drama such as a character’s susceptibility, gullibility, subsequent entrapment, seduction, and fall. Rebeck does it here with relish. Charlie, an unemployed actor (Tony Shalhoub), feels the pressure to find work, but not to the point of sucking up to a loathsome high school buddy who has made it big and is possibly willing to offer him a bit role in a film that may or may not get made. He also feels the resulting fallout in his marriage to Stella, a successful TV talk-show talent booker (Patricia Heaton). Stella may be an all work and no play go-getter who takes Charlie for granted, but she is not in the same league, unfortunately, with Clea (Anna Camp), the free-spirited frisky blond temptress fresh from Ohio who goes after who and what she wants on her way up. And that includes Charlie’s best friend Lewis (Christopher Evan Welch). What might have been just a retelling of the old story vibrates here with contemporary illusions and its share of theatrical resolutions that are nearly always right on the mark. The motor of the play is the dialogue, which is always bracing, funny, and crisp. The play begins on the rooftop terrace of a New York apartment where a scene-making party is in progress. At first, Charlie is condescending if not downright rude to Clea, whose Valley-speak inflections and vapid moralizing define her as profoundly empty headed. Here is an example: Clea — “There were, obviously, there were some things said here, that maybe rubbed you the wrong way, and I am totally willing to talk about that. I mean, I apologize for that. But you were, like, jumping all over me because I said surreal, and I just started to feel stupid. So apologize. If I was edgy or something.” Camp is terrific as the part ditz, part demon femme fatale, who uses her sexual charms with a cute and in an acutely deliberate way. Abandoning her half-hearted seduction of bachelor Lewis for the more challenging Charlie, she brazenly flaunts the affair she subsequently has with Charlie in front of a shocked Stella. Shalhoub, best known for his award-winning portrayal of Monk in the TV series of the same name but who also has given countless memorable stage performances, gives a dynamite one as the increasingly despairing Charlie, who is unwilling to corrupt his own artistic integrity but yet discovers that he is most vulnerable to everything he hates. Heaton flawlessly captures Stella’s cool self-sufficiency while also making her attractive enough to warrant an unexpected romantic turn of events. Although Welch is fine and often empathetic enough as friend Lewis, his character is less clearly defined than is his apartment, handsomely designed Derek McLane, who also gives a sense of New York chic to the other domicile locations. But best of all, there is the city-chic sensibilities and the site-specific chicanery that permeate The Scene that give it its primary and most persuasive character. ***

”The Scene,” through Sunday, February 4, unless extended, Second Stage Theater, 307 West 43rd Street. $71.50. 212-246-4422.

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