To the Contrary
nytheatre.com review by James Comptois
July 15, 2007
To The Contrary, a play written by veteran stage manager Craig Jacobs and directed by James Valletti, has its heart on its sleeve and clearly loves its characters, but tells a story that's neither particularly new nor remarkable.
Bernie, a New York City photographer who shoots headshots for actors and pictures for models, has built up some serious walls around her heart. Yes, the metaphorical ones. It's a shame she receives some devastating news once she finally tears them down. Or then again, maybe it's perfect timing.
The play centers around Bernie; Michael, a very shy aspiring actor/model and one of Bernie's subjects; and Lesslie, a "60 years young" soap star and Bernie's best friend. One day, Bernie ends up falling for Michael, and falling hard. Since developing and acting on feelings is something Bernie absolutely does not do, she starts to become unreasonably paranoid that Michael may be manipulating her emotions to get superior photo work from her. Lesslie, who has a habit of trying to set Bernie up with young beefcakes du jour, does what she can to tell Bernie to get a grip on her proverbial horses and not be an idiot for letting a good thing slip away (she thinks he not only seems like a very nice guy, but man, what a hunk).
To prove to Bernie that he's serious about entering a committed relationship with her and not interested in merely "fooling around," Michael suggests they get tested together.
On the one hand, the acting and directing is uniformly good. All five actors in the cast are very talented, very likeable performers and Valletti's direction seamlessly blends meat-and-potatoes realism with scenes where characters break the fourth wall and have imaginary conversations with dead people. Also, the compassion and honesty displayed in To The Contrary is very admirable.
On the other, Jacobs's script doesn't exactly tread into original—or even that interesting—territory. It has a little more meat and character development than an "AIDS: It Could Happen To You" PSA, but not much more.
Laura Jordan is engaging and thoroughly believable as the neurotic Bernie, simultaneously evoking sympathy and frustration within the audience. Also, Jim Weitzer is charismatic as Michael, and Diane J. Findlay is just straight-up hilarious as Lesslie. Additionally, Todd Detwiler has an amusing cameo as an aggressively macho male model eager to show Bernie the proverbial "goods," and James Mills delivers a posthumous monologue as a young gay man who died of AIDS that Bernie admired in her youth from afar (and one of the reasons why she ended up not only loving to photograph men, but also wants little more to do with them aside from that) with a great deal of warmth and even whimsy.
At the end of the day, To The Contrary has a sweet and touching message: in times of crisis, it's important to open yourself emotionally to those who love you. However, it's one that's been told many times before.