Truth or dare: 'Fiction' explores chancy consequences of honesty
Published in the Asbury Park Press and the Home News Tribune
Staff Writer

At some point, every couple has traversed the territory covered in the world-premiere play "Fiction," being staged through April 13 at Princeton's McCarter Theatre.

Steven Dietz, a playwright known for his probing looks at the lies lurking beneath the surface of relationships, has trained his eye on personal relationships this time.

In "Fiction," starring Robert Cuccioli, Marianne Hagan and Laila Robbins, a married couple, both writers who pride themselves on their unusually honest relationship, decide to share their personal journals with each other. "Fiction" runs through April 13.

"My feeling is, if you say you really want to know everything about your partner, you better prepare yourself," said Dietz, during a break from rehearsals in Princeton last week. "Would I want to have my wife read my journal? Are you kidding? No. Nor would I want to read my wife's. "One of the impulses for me to start this play was the question, 'Do you really want to know everything about the person you love?' "

"Fiction" won the 2003 New American Play Grant from the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington.

Real-life romantic partners Robert Cuccioli and Laila Robins star in "Fiction," receiving its world premiere
at McCarter Theatre in Princeton. Dietz said he had considered, for some time, writing a play that showed the cracks in a seemingly strong relationship using the concept of absolute honesty.

"And there was the related notion that whatever secrets in those diaries, would one's life be better? Should some things remain a secret? And if not, what would it be like to have to live with those secrets in your life?" Dietz said. Dietz said when he told friends of the concept behind the project, they reacted with a mixture of horror and bemusement. "People's reactions were very powerful. 'Why on Earth would they do that?' kind of stuff," Dietz said. "I think plays about some level of deception have a great resonance for us. We love to watch someone keep a secret from someone. The appeal of soap operas, for example, is that we know things the characters don't. "I guess I'm rather smitten with that concept of deception."

For Cuccioli and Robbins, who play the couple at the heart of "Fiction," the sometimes painful probing of the relationship between the onstage character has a particular resonance offstage. The two are significant others in real life. "Our real-life relationship actually makes the whole dynamic onstage even more interesting," said Cuccioli, familiar to many theater fans for his award-winning performance on Broadway in the title role of "Jekyll & Hyde." "Would I want to read her diary? I don't think so. There's actually a line in the play which says that a marriage is not a tell-all enterprise. It's a pact between necessary strangers. "I feel that even though people are a couple, there's a lot they don't know about each other. You have to respect someone's personal privacy on things."

Robbins said she was aware that Cuccioli kept a journal but didn't feel any urge to find out what was in it."I think as people mature they also realize that what makes a relationship work is that you're two individuals with your own lives and you have to respect those boundaries," she said. "When you're younger, you have this idea that being in a relationship means merging with someone totally. "Then you get a little older and realize that idea of merging with someone totally isn't always healthy. Yes you love that someone, but you also give them space."

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