nytheatre.com review by Robin Reed
May 11, 2007
Every playwright I know has folders full of short plays—a scene, a monologue, an idea here and there—that may never get produced. Some of these pieces get incorporated into full-lengths or shown as one-acts; a monologue might become the basis for a character in something else. I imagine it has been quite a treat for playwright Rich Orloff to have eight of his short plays produced in one evening.
And it's a treat for the audience as well.
As with anything that comes in big groups, there are hits as well as misses, but each of these eight pieces has its own distinct voice, and shows Orloff's great range as a writer.
The evening ranges from the mundane to the bizarre, in no particular order: a bickering husband and wife (Matterhorn), a timid Mister and unsatisfied Mistress (Afternoon Sun), an estranged sister and her dutiful brother (Heart of the Fire), a buyer and seller with appetites for more than real estate (Lion Tamer), a gay couple struggling through the politics of the day (Oh Happy Day), a forbidden love between teacher and student (Class Dismissed), a touchy one-night stand (Right Sensation), and a relationship where she really puts his needs above her own (Invisible Woman).
The quick and punchy style made me think Orloff should definitely be writing for TV—he has a knack for setting up something smooth and dropping the bottom out for either a laugh or a kick. He manages to address some heavy issues that affect relationships and groups of two: gay marriage, the disintegration of marriage in America, love, lust and the penchant for controlling what goes on in someone else's bedroom, infusing each with a delicate balance of humor and gravity.
The production itself is sufficient, but bumpy. I wished that the three different directors could have found a simpler staging that would have eliminated the need for a full set change for every piece. Each is engaging enough that I would have been totally fine to suspend my disbelief and accept one couch or chair or table throughout. The pauses in between are just long and distracting enough to cause for a dip in the energy of the audience.
While all 16 actors are well-cast and entertaining, there are a handful of standouts. Michael Anderson, as Stewart in Right Sensation, takes us all back to that awkward moment where you can make it or break it when "getting to know" a virtual stranger. C.K. Allen and L.B. Williams, as Larry and Elliot in Oh Happy Day, both bring a simmer to a boil and back again dancing in and around the topic of marriage. And Justin R.G. Holcomb, as "A Man" in Lion Tamer walks the line between reserved and absurd, with surprises at every turn.
All in all, Couples is a lighthearted evening that is fun and thought-provoking, all in bite-sized little packages.