Friday, May 18, 2007

Review - Couples (WorkShop Theater Company)

Stage Buzz review by David Orchard

Gay, straight, frustrated, bestial – just some of the complex relationships on show in Rich Orloff’s intriguing Couples at The WorkShop Theater Company. Eight short, two-person scenes each drawing the audience in with an intimate portrayal of relationships at a tipping point. From the awkward fumblings of a drunken hook-up to the tediosity of a middle-aged marriage, what could easily be boring, “slice of life” vignettes is actually a fascinating peep into the lives of those around us. While each couple is experiencing some kind of crisis – major and minor – the scenes vary from domestic realism to fantasy and inner-monologue. Each scene is well-directed by Paula D’Alessandris, Phillip Emeott and David Gautschy (each directing several of the scenes) and hits the right tone for the tiny space of the Jewel Box Theater – relying on a minimal set and carefully pooled lighting and atmospheric effects by lighting designer Richard Kent Green. The intimacy of the relationships and the size of the theater could easily lead to under- or over-acting, something that is pretty much avoided throughout the evening.

A smartly conceived opening scene has all 16 actors waiting in line for a Disneyland rollercoaster while the first vignette, Matterhorn, takes place in their midst. An irritable forty-something husband and wife bicker incessantly while their offstage kids cause mayhem. Wende O’Reilly as Arleen deftly avoids caricature while conveying the frustrations of the unsatisfied wife who ultimately finds a kind of peace with her husband Jerry (Richard Mover). Of the seven other scenes, four others deserve special mention.

Class Dismissed deals with the painful parting of a professor and student relationship after their gay affair has been uncovered. Ken Glickfield as the ageing Gene and Jess Cassidy White as his young protégé bring a tender touch that hits home but isn’t overly sentimental.

Lion Tamer is the most bizarre of all the scenes – balancing Noel Coward-style witticism with the sex-charged writing of Jackie Collins. Justin R.G. Holcomb as “A Man” is viewing the apartment of “A Woman” (Christine Verleny) with a view to rent or purchase. As they flirt urbanely their dialogue becomes more charged until Man begins to tell how he “mounted” a lioness while on safari. Holcomb’s wave of dark blond hair and sensuous delivery create a performance that is both leonine and seductive, despite the disturbing imagery.

In Oh Happy Day, a black, gay couple celebrates their tenth anniversary in the happy cocoon they’ve created for themselves while dealing with the aggravations and discrimination that surrounds them. C.K. Allen as Larry and L.B. Williams as Elliot show a genuine warmth and affection and play off each other’s charms in a way that can only be described as endearing.

In the evening’s final scene Right Sensation, Stewart (Michael Anderson) and Paula (Jaqueline M. Raposo) stumble back to her place after a night out drinking. The emotionally, and physically, scarred Paula soon pulls back to reveal an uncomfortable secret. Raposo shows both a fragility and strength while Anderson deals with her revelation in a “foot in mouth”, yet tender way – something that the directors of Lifetime TV movies would be advised to study.

All in all, Couples goes to prove that there’s drama in everyone’s lives, but if only it could be resolved in less than ten minutes like these are.