The divide between men and women has never been so defined as the line that split the stage in half at the Sargent Theatre, where Eric Alter's Nice Guys Finish... was well-directed by Gerard F. Mawn.
Scenes alternated between the blue side (where the boys were) and the pink side (where the girls were, natch). At the beginning scenes were short —the guys clicking beers, then blackout; the girls meeting on a park bench, then blackout. This was a theme throughout, as the audience's attention was shifted back and forth from one side of the stage to the other, with only half of the stage illuminated at a time (the crisp and beautifully accurate lighting was uncredited). Male and female stereotypes were reinforced by the script, as the men and women critiqued the other sex's behavior, with humorous counterpoint. The cons and cons of blind dates, as it were:
Never let your mother set you up on a date, Tom (Dean Negri) pontificated to his friend Lou (Christopher Tessler), and always be aware that a girl you haven't met who sounds good on the phone will always turn out to be fat. Never let your boss set you up on a date, Sherrie (Melissa Pellechio) announces to Jannie (Edmire Saint-Pierre), and isn't it too bad that men don't behave like gentlemen anymore! Never be a gentleman, Tom announces, and never pick her up in your car. One date ordered escargot for her without asking first, Sherrie says, and boy, were they disgusting. A date with a fat girl turns out even worse than expected when her killer brother goes along as a chaperone. Then there's the Arab who only wants a new member of his harem, and what about that woman who throws up during a kiss.
Both Negri and Pellechio were very good, Negri full of bravado and bluster, and Pellechio using her hair and nails as props by which she inadvertently showed just what's important to her. But the twain meet when the boys' friend Stevie (Robert Scott Sullivan) has a blind date with the girls' friend Kimberly (Erin McCormack). Stevie, having been tutored by Tom, tries hard to be the boor Tom's assertiveness training would have him be, and Kim is stuck between following her own instincts and the advice she's gotten from Sherrie. Of course expectations are confounded (she likes comics! He reads more than the sports page!) but because of the sharp staging, interest and even a degree of suspense were maintained to see how it all would play out. Stevie breaks the action of the date scene to argue with Tom on how to act, and Kim does the same to explain to Sherrie that her advice is counterintuitive. Of course they are made for each other, and once they allow their true selves to come through, the audience is allowed a sigh of relief. And a laugh at Sherrie's frustration when all advice is ignored.
Nice Guys Finish... was as obvious as its title, but the sharp and funny performances by Negri and Pellechio did a lot to raise the stakes. Tessler was simply there to be talked to, but Saint-Pierre's smile was so genuine when Kim made her own way that it was a shame she had so little to do. Sullivan and McCormack both nicely navigated the predictability of their roles, mixing insecurity with sweetness.
The set (uncredited) was in line with the stereotypes — the boys' (blue) side taking place around a bar, and the girls' side, a park setting in vibrant pink. The concept was used very well as the dénouement is signaled when Stevie crosses the line to the pink side. Special mention must be made in praise of the lighting-board operator who couldn't have made the switches between the two sides of the stage any more clean and sharp if far more sophisticated equipment had been at his/her disposal.
The evening ended with Barry Manilow singing "Daybreak." Ah, romance!
Production Stage Manager: Wendy Patten.
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Copyright 2001 David Mackler