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Theater Review: “Margin of Error”

Photo credit:
Daren Scott

Anton Myrvold (Ruff Yeager) is what might be termed a BMOC.

Not just an imposing physical presence, he’s also a major light in physics, and as “Margin Of Error” opens he crows to Indian wife Sunita (Roxane Carrasco) that he has just received backdoor notice from someone in the know that he’s been shortlisted for the Nobel Prize. 

But tonight, he and Sunita are awaiting the arrival of two promising physics post-grads, Gray (Joel Miller) and his girlfriend Britt (Kate Reynolds).

The occasion is the announcement of the coveted Fermi Fellowship, which we are led to believe has been virtually promised to Gray.

But Anton lets Sunita in on the truth: Britt will get the grant.

Peace activist Sunita lets her displeasure at the unfairness be known, but Anton will not relent. His reason is not difficult to guess, but it may be no accident that Anton is an expert in dark matter, nor that he fudged on a research paper that has made him famous.

It is also ironic that scientific ethics is of particular interest to him.

Ambition is a harsh mistress, and after the announcement, the evening devolves into name-calling, finger-pointing, blaming and the usual responses to such news – and not just from Gray, who mentions Anton’s paper.

Will Gray and Britt survive the evening as a couple? Will Anton be exposed? In truth, none of them will come away unscathed.

Startup Roustabout Theatre Company, co-founded by Yeager and Phil Johnson, presents “Margin Of Error,” a brand-new play by their third collaborator, playwright Will Cooper, through May 7 at San Diego Repertory’s Lyceum Space.

What is it that makes dinner parties such fertile ground for psychological mud-slinging and emotional warfare?

We’ve seen it before, notably in Edward Albee’s “Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf?” and Yasmina Reza’s “God Of Carnage.”

There are no huge surprises in plot or emotional heat level generated here, but director Rosina Reynolds keeps the tension high and her splendid cast holds audience attention with taut performances.

Yeager’s oversized performance matches his character nicely, even if it seems a little de trop in comparison.

He also plays a mean piano, at one point doing a lovely turn on Debussy’s “Clair de Lune.”

Carrasco is excellent as peacemaker Sunita, mastering accent and demeanor in a role she stepped into late.

Reynolds (Rosina’s daughter) is heartbreaking as Britt, especially in the emotionally wrenching scene with Anton that we all know is coming. 

Miller’s Gray makes believable those transitions from disappointment to anger to lashing out and threats.

The Roustabouts have a crack tech team as well.

Sean Fanning’s comfortable set seems right, and so do Elisa Benzoni’s costumes. Curtis Mueller and Melanie Chen contribute fine lighting and sound.

“Margin Of Error” covers no new ground, but asks still relevant questions about when the price of getting what you want is too high.

The details

The Roustabouts’ “Margin of Error” plays through May 7, 2017 at the Lyceum Theatre, 79 Horton Plaza, downtown.

Wednesday through Friday at 8 pm; Saturday at 4 and 8 pm; Sunday at 2 pm

Tickets: (619) 544-1000 or theroustabouts.org