this. by Melissa James Gibson, Directed by Braden Abraham. Seattle Repertory Theatre, through May 15th.
I've said it before, but the good thing about season tickets is that you end up going to plays that you would normally never go to. Billed as an "unromantic comedy", this. (note the period) is more of a sit-com, and by that I want to get back to the full use of the word situational comedy. Humor arising from familiar characters in situations. It is funny in places, touching in others, and well-acted throughout, and would not be out of place on NBC's Thursday night lineup, except for the fact that there is real character development.
The core is the group of friends in their late thirties. Marrell (April Yvette Thompson) and Tom (Hans Altwies) are the brittle, exhausted couple who haven't slept more than fifteen minutes since the birth of their child. Jane (Cheyenne Casebier) and Alan (Nick Garrison) are the old friends from college. Jane's husband died a year ago and she is struggling as a single mom. Alan is the gay jewish wacky friend - in sitcom language, he fills the role of Barney or Phoebe. He gets to be broader and larger than life. Here, his character has perfect memory (making it the second play I've seen at the Rep with such a character, the first being the 39 Stairs). Ryan Shams is the guest star, as Jean-Pierre, the doctor without borders that Marrell and Tom are trying to set up with Jane
That's where it starts, with a party game that goes wrong (Edward Albee is stalking this entire season), and then moves in fits and starts through emotional baggage, hidden secrets, and the nature of relationships. This is New York and these are Urbanites who see plays and do the crossword puzzle in the Times and so there is a lot of wordplay and language and arguing about punctuation and how you pronounce things like a Brita water filter. But the thing is, there is character advancement, and while some of the endings have the traditional feel to them (I have no doubt Alan will be back to normal by next week), there is the feeling of character challenge and growth here.
Contributing the comfortable feel of the play is that there are a lot of Rep regulars here. And that is one of the great things about a Repertory theater - you get do actors in many roles. Han Altwies does the frustrated husband well that we've seen earlier. Cheyenne Casebier digs in a bit deeper with Jane, and the play is ultimately about her. Nick Garrison gets to be more snippy and sniper-like with Alan. Ryan Shams I want to believe is actually French, since his accent and mannerisms line up so well with some of my French friends. And April Yvette Thompson holds her own with the others, and yes, you believe that they have been friends for years even though the discussions veer into race, gender, and morality.
And the set. OK, I'm trying not to hit the "sitcom" hotkey too many times, but the well-furbished set does well as Tom and Marrell's apartment, with the second act scene change as the club Marrell sings in and with various doors for spot scenes. Yes, the components are all there, and the play strives to rise above it all.
One bit of pedantry, from the fact that so much of the play is about words and usage. The cover of the playbill calls the play this (lower case, no punctuation). But title page calls it this. (all lower case, but with a period at the end. And the website gives him This (capped, but no punctuation). So what's the deal with this?
I liked this. Not every play deals with deeper issues, and this. occupies a space higher a tad higher than traditional TV fair and Romantic comedies. It is a good "date play". More later,
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