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the Complete Review
the complete review - drama


Life x 3

Yasmina Reza

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To purchase Life x 3

Title: Life x 3
Author: Yasmina Reza
Genre: Drama
Written: 2000
Length: 66 pages
Original in: French
Availability: Life x 3 - US
Life x 3 - UK
Life x 3 - Canada
Trois versions de la vie - Canada
Trois versions de la vie - France
Drei Mal Leben - Deutschland
Tres versiones de la vida - España
  • French title: Trois versions de la vie
  • Translated by Christopher Hampton

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Our Assessment:

B : a fun idea, reasonably well executed

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Age . 14/3/2002 Helen Thomson
Financial Times . 2/4/2003 Brendan Lemon
The Guardian B+ 9/12/2000 Michael Billington
The Guardian C 6/9/2001 Lyn Gardner
The Independent A 8/12/2000 Paul Taylor
The New Republic . 26/5/2003 Robert Brustein
The NY Observer . 14/4/2003 John Heilpern
NY Post . 1/4/2003 Clive Barnes
NY Press . 16/4/2003 Mimi Kramer-Bryk
The NY Times C 1/4/2003 Ben Brantley
Newsday . 1/4/2003 Linda Winer
The Observer . 10/12/2000 Susannah Clapp
Der Spiegel . 30/10/2000 Joachim Kronsbein
Sunday Telegraph . 10/12/2000 John Gross
The Sunday Times . 17/12/2000 John Peter
Time . 5/4/2003 Richard Zoglin
TLS A 15/12/2000 John Stokes
USA Today . 31/3/2003 Elysa Gardner
The Village Voice . 8/4/2003 Michael Feingold
The Washington Post . 6/4/2005 Peter Marks

  Review Consensus:

  Almost all were entertained by it -- except the largely disappointed New York critics

  From the Reviews:
  • "It's a clever idea and convincingly demonstrates the mutability of human affairs in an amusing fashion, but its intellectual pretensions are rather thin." - Helen Thomson, The Age

  • "If this repetition device is used less ingeniously than it was in that Bill Murray masterpiece Groundhog Day, Reza is professional enough to keep things from seeming too mechanical. That is more than can be said of Christopher Hampton's translation. Time and agin, his rendering lapses into language that no native English-speaker has ever comfortably uttered, resulting in cadences that, at best, ring hollow, and, at worst, smother the jokes." - Brendan Lemon, Financial Times

  • "Yasmina Reza's new play is an elegant enigma with triple variations. (...) As an intellectual construct, the play is fascinating; the one flaw theatrically is that the temperature perceptibly drops after the riotous first scene." - Michael Billington, The Guardian

  • "Like Reza's Art, this is quite clever, but not half as clever as it thinks it is. With its seductive veneer of sophistication, the play is like a mildly amusing party game. This is theatre for people who don't really like theatre, but would like to consume some kind of cultural experience before they consume their dinners." - Lyn Gardner, The Guardian

  • "The piece is adroitly translated by Christopher Hampton (.....) I have never cared much for Reza's work before now and had thought that Life x 3 might equal emptiness cubed. Instead, it amounts to pleasure-in-triplicate." - Paul Taylor, The Independent

  • "But instead of elevating theater to the level of art, Life x 3 lowers aesthetics to the status of a domestic anecdote. (...) The trouble is that the events (and the furniture) don't vary enough to justify the repetition (or the stagehands' salaries)." - Robert Brustein, The New Republic

  • "The changes here seem to be random, as if these are three of an infinite number of realities that could have been experienced with these four people. Reza may be playing off the meanings from her scientists' contentious conversations about obscure halo theory. Her seemingly meaningless changes of detail and emotional responses, however, merely lower the stakes of her drama." - Linda Winer, Newsday

  • "Do not concern yourself with smokescreen references to the mysterious astrophysical flatness of halos. Theyíre the equivalent of name-dropping in the void. The bilious inconsequentiality of the evening isnít because of the vastness of the cosmos. Itís small because itís small. (...) Itís as if the dramatist has given us three drafts of the same unsatisfactory half-hour play." - John Heilpern, The New York Observer

  • "Reza gives us three variations on that theme. Each could have happened, and one probably did. The trouble is, you don't really care which." - Clive Barnes, New York Post

  • "In order to find anything witty or interesting in Rezaís play, alas, youíd pretty much have to redirect it in your head. Life (x) 3 is a slight, unassuming comedy, part gentle farce, part moth-like speculation on human behavior(.....) Itís only in reading Life (x) 3 that you realize that there may in fact be a progression. In each scene, the characters seem to become less simplistic, less oriented toward the exigencies of a specific genre. They lose their formulaic edge and take on, instead, a tinge of idiosyncrasy." - Mimi Kramer-Bryk, New York Press

  • "Though the first segment of Life x 3 is greeted with gratified laughter, a moment comes shortly after when you can sense brows creasing throughout the house. One great big "Huh ?" seems to hover in the air, and the show never gets the audience back on its side." - Ben Brantley, The New York Times

  • "Life x 3 is swift, sharply phrased, poised and awash with uncertainty. (...) This is not a resonant play: it's a wheeze hitching a ride from metaphysics." - Susannah Clapp, The Observer

  • "Drei Variationen um das Thema Ehehölle -- das geht auf, weil Luc Bondy das Absurd-Groteske der dramaturgischen Konstruktion elegant herausarbeitet und weil er dafür ein Quartett brillanter Schauspieler zur Verfügung hat, das die subtilen Veränderungen in den Figuren in jeder der drei Szenen punktgenau und unangestrengt offenbart. So legen sich die drei Versuchsanordnungen wie drei Blaupausen übereinander und zeichnen ein vielschichtiges, irisierendes Gruppenporträt." - Joachim Kronsbein, Der Spiegel

  • "It is as original in format as Art, and in most respects wittier and more satisfying. (...) Reza (who has been well served once again by her translator, Christopher Hampton) juggles beautifully with the various comic and not so comic elements -- personal, professional, intellectual. Any one of the episodes would make an excellent short play in itself, but the cumulative effect is much more than that of three unrelated pieces." - John Gross, Sunday Telegraph

  • "This extraordinary play is both banal and profound. The writing is brisk, brittle, brilliantly funny and lethally accurate." - John Peter, The Sunday Times

  • "Yet, this promising device winds up in a puddle of missed opportunities. The contrasts and parallels in the three alternate scenes seem arbitrary, unfocused and occasionally confusing." - Richard Zoglin, Time

  • "(I)t makes few demands and it expects no moral choice. A middle-class theatre for a middle-class audience, but so funny, so professional, so speedy that it makes one wonder afresh what the middle classes have done to deserve such piquant entertainment." - John Stokes, Times Literary Supplement

  • "Yet the conversation is never as willfully esoteric as it sometimes seemed in Reza's previous New York outing, The Unexpected Man. Instead, the disparate setups provide accessible insights into different sides of each character and the forces that alternately motivate and paralyze them. In the end, they all seem more, well, three-dimensional, and therefore more sympathetic." - Elysa Gardner, USA Today

  • "Reza's gimmick is to replay the embarrassing non-dinner party three times, with the characters' relations shifting slightly each time, like numerical permutations. Her mistake was assuming that this would add up to an evening of theater; instead it simply shows that she might have written the play any of three different ways if she had only found some reason to care about its characters. But she didn't, and so neither do we: They remain bits of cardboard next to whom the figures in more current sitcoms look almost three-dimensional." - Michael Feingold, The Village Voice

  • "It all feels, though, like a vacuous parlor game. None of these people exists in more than two dimensions, and their humdrum conversations about the office and child-rearing bear on nothing but the painfully familiar." - Peter Marks, The Washington Post

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Life x 3 is a three-act play in which almost the same scene is replayed three times. It is evening, and Henri and Sonia are at home, their son Arnaud already tucked in bed. Henri is a research scientist, and he has invited his superior, Hubert Finidori (with his wife, Inès) over for dinner the next night. But suddenly the Finidori's show up -- a day early.
       The guests are not turned away, even though Henri and Sonia are completely unprepared to entertain (or, basically, even deal with) them. There isn't even enough food to nibble on (though at least there is apparently sufficient alcohol). It makes for an awkward evening -- and this awkward evening is replayed three times. Changing only relatively small things, Reza shows how differently events can unfold.
       A few things are common to all three variations: the child is reluctant to fall asleep, for example (disastrously so in the first act, less annoyingly in the others). Or: Inès gets a run (a "ladder" in Christopher Hampton's translation) in her stocking. Or: Hubert telling Henri that the paper Henri has devoted years to (and is, in large part, pinning his professional hopes on), "On the Flatness of Galaxy Halos", sounds much like a paper someone else just submitted.
       In each act events unfold differently around these main elements. A minor change in attitude by any one of the characters snowballs, leading to a different outcome. Henri is paralyzed by fear and insecurity in one act ("That paper is my scientific death warrant" he laments), and almost completely in control in another. Sonia is embarrassed when Henri is subservient ("My husband crawls in front of yours. No normal woman can bear that."), and, in some of the scenes, willing to entertain Hubert's romantic overtures
       Hubert can help Henri advance his career, and so Henri needs his help. Hubert's revelation -- that there is another, apparently very similar, paper to Henri's already in circulation -- can be seen as entirely malicious, or as a helpful heads-up. Reza allows for a number of variations in their personal relationship (as well as that including the two women).
       The play is -- like most of Reza's work -- almost entirely about personal dynamics. Reza suggests that with a proper attitude life can be lived happily (and, conversely, with a bad attitude that life is hell -- witness Henri in the first act).
       It's a fun idea, and reasonably well done -- but it is also fairly simplistic. The characters, each fairly well presented, are not entirely believable in their transformations -- Henri especially. The different scenarios seem like almost plausible variations of what might happen, but not entirely so. And yet Reza also doesn't do enough with her variations either: the changes seem more in the characters (and their attitude towards life and events) than in the actual events themselves. Which doesn't make for the most thrilling theatre.
       Life x 3 is entertaining enough. Reza's dialogue moves along nicely, and there is enough drama here to keep one interested (from the spoiled brat in act one to Hubert's lecherous advances in the final act). But one imagines that much more could have been done with this fundamentally clever idea.

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Life x 3: Reviews: Yasmina Reza: Other Books by Yasmina Reza under Review Other books of interest under review:
  • See the index of Drama at the complete review
  • See the index of French literature at the complete review

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About the Author:

       French author Yasmina Reza, born in 1959, achieved her first great success with the play 'Art'. She has also written fiction and screenplays.

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