Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

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You Can Get With This, Or...

August 23, 2011

L to R: Eisa Davis, Darren Pettie, and Saffron Burrows Photo: CTG/Craig Schwartz

The Center Theater Group concluded its 2010/2011 season at the Kirk Douglas Theater this month with Melissa James Gibson’s This in a 2009 production imported from Playwrights Horizons in New York. It’s one of the those contemporary plays about contemporary middle-class obsessions – in this case infidelity and its effect on a group of friends- that come and go from theaters across the country with nary a blip in the long-term memory. That Gibson’s play carries a moniker as forgettable as its content is apropos. That awkward title, refers to the inarticulate short-hand used by the characters to refer to the relationships and emotional conflicts in their lives - this marriage conflict, this affair, this feeling over the death of a husband. Tom and Marrell have recently welcomed their first child in an effort to relieve the growing strain in their marriage. Marrell’s college friend, Jane, a mother and widow of one year, finds herself uninterested in Jean-Pierre, the physician Marrell is trying to set her up with, but soon is tempted by the unexpected advances of Tom. Everyone makes sardonic remarks for just under two hours while wringing their hands over the romantic details of their lives. Jane struggles with grief, but it’s as hard to care about her as any of the other underdeveloped characters or relationships in the play. It’s a sentiment that Gibson both telegraphs and unwittingly defends against in a moment when Jean-Pierre reflects on the unimportance of these emotional upheavals in comparison to what he sees working in poor countries overseas.

Much of the cast from the New York premiere including Darren Pettie as Tom and Eisa Davis as Marrell reprise their roles here. The biggest change is the addition of Saffron Burrows as Jane. Glenn Fitzgerald plays the stock token friend/counselor/redeemer/comic relief gay character, Alan. These are all likable actors who manage to give their somewhat meager parts all the care and concern they can. But the clunky direction of Daniel Aukin can muddy the waters. Gibson’s play is filled with the kind of rapid-fire witty conversations that no one really has, but can sound realistic with their repeated interruptions of one another. But these exchanges sound over-rehearsed and robotic like the kinds of things characters say in plays. The laughs are few and far between and not much outside of what you'd hear in a well-written sitcom. Louisa Thompson’s lovely detailed New York apartment set is attractive and gives the audience plenty to concentrate on while the characters whine on, but I wouldn’t recommend spending time with them there. This runs through August 28.


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