When producing an evening of short plays, several of them award-winners, by a prolific and well-received playwright, one can be fairly certain of the material. The question then becomes can the actors and directors do justice to the playwright’s work. In the case of Couples, an evening of short plays by Rich Orloff produced by the WorkShop Theater Company, the answer is a resounding yes.
Couples is comprised of eight short plays, each featuring two characters in a relationship of one form or another dealing with love and desire. Though there are some missteps along the way, overall the evening is very entertaining.
In the humorous Matterhorn, a husband (Richard Mover) and wife (Wende O’Reilly) visiting the “happiest place on earth” realize that the thing that keeps them together is their loathing of each other. A cute play with funny, yet realistic, dialogue, it also allows director Philip Emeott to introduce the entire cast of Couples, who are on stage as other theme-park visitors waiting for their turn on the ride.
The second piece, Class Dismissed, is more somber, dealing with the aftermath of a forbidden love affair between a college religion professor (Ken Glickfeld) and one of his students (Jess Cassidy White). A sad and touching piece, it nevertheless feels a little stilted, as though the actors are having a hard time connecting with their characters.
Lion Tamer, also directed by Philip Emeott, is one of the all-around strongest plays of the evening. Sexy, funny, and disturbing, it features a verbal tango of seduction between a woman selling her house (Christine Verleny) and a man (Justin R.G. Holcomb) who wants it . . . and her. Holcomb and Verleny have wonderful chemistry and are well suited to this sly, sexy play.
David Gautschy’s second turn at directing is Afternoon Sun, a sultry play about yearning. With a loving nod to Tennessee Williams, this play explores an afternoon tryst that was spoiled by an inopportune Gideons’ Bible. Peter Farrell plays the adulterer, Charlie, rather blandly. Lena Armstrong, however, is remarkable as Rosemary, whose every movement and though seems to radiate heat and longing.
The plays in the second act don’t work quite as well as those in the first. Heart of the Fire, in which a brother (Vinnie Penna) and sister (Marie-Pierre Beausejour) deal with the approaching death of their mother, is compelling and features well-crafted dialogue, but it seems incomplete, as though part of a larger work that had been excerpted for this play.
Taking on the topics of conservative politics and gay marriage, Oh Happy Day is an interesting and timely piece. What makes it stand out is the wonderful work by L.B Williams and C.K. Allen. The two, playing a long-term gay couple, have marvelous chemistry, as well as terrific timing. Neither strikes a false note in the lovely little play.
The next vignette in this act, Invisible Woman, doesn’t really fit with the rest of the evening’s plays. Technically featuring two characters, Susanne (Cailin McDonald) and her husband, Bret (Anthony Aibel), it is really Susanne’s monologue sandwiched between a couple of very brief conversations. Since there is no real give and take between the actors - in fact, during the monologue, Aibel is frozen in place – it is a jarring choice for this show.
Saving the best for last, the evening ends with Right Sensation, a surprisingly charming play about a woman’s first sexual encounter after a mastectomy. The play is sweet and tender, a true delight. Jacqueline M. Raposo strikes the right note between anticipation and fear as Paula, a woman torn between her desire and the realities of her altered body. Michael Anderson is super as the eager but understanding Stewart. Director Paula D’Alessandris, who also directed Heart of the Fire and Invisible Woman, does a good job with the tentative start-and-stop nature of the encounter.
While one or two of the plays don’t reach their full potential, the cracking dialogue and excellent acting more than makes up for it. For those who have never experienced Rich Orloff’s work, the WorkShop Theater Company’s production of Couples is an outstanding place to begin.
Copyright 2007 Byrne Harrison
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