Reversal of fortunes

By STEVE VINEBERG  |  May 25, 2010

The play is a reverse romantic comedy in which the obstacles present themselves after the couple have made it to the altar — and it’s possible to make it work on that level, at least, with the right actors. The Huntington production is disastrously miscast in this regard. Brian Sgambati, who plays Peter, attacks his lines with a hip-ironic tone that makes his character seem unappealingly smug, and Cassie Beck fails to make Rita’s terror of the world plausible — she treats her cynicism, which emerges from neurotic insecurity, as the voice of hardened experience (which doesn’t match what Lucas tells us about the character). In a word, both lack delicacy. Beck has one moment when something like wonder breaks through, when Rita accepts Peter’s marriage proposal, but it’s the only point at which I felt anything for this woman.

The actors to watch are the older ones. MacIntyre Dixon, whom I remember fondly from his work in some lesser Robert Altman pictures from the early ’80s, brings a tousled leprechaun quality to the role of the old man. Nancy E. Carroll and Michael Hammond play their scenes as Rita’s parents with the skill of veteran character players; they make Lucas’s stale witticisms and staler philosophical epigrams sound fresh, even affecting. And Cheryl McMahon brings her buoyancy to a cameo as Rita’s Aunt Dorothy in the first act. (She resurfaces in another part in act two.)

The production is visually distinguished: it has an excellent set by Scott Bradley and gorgeous lighting by Japhy Weideman. The set consists of a series of rectangles, most of them on the backdrop; there’s a frame that flies in for some scenes — the wedding guests remain behind it during the wedding ceremony — and another, smaller one for the scene in which Peter asks his best man and co-worker, Taylor (Timothy John Smith), for advice when he begins to suspect that the woman he’s living with isn’t the woman he married. The idea is that the rectangles are empty vessels that can be filled in by different characters, like Rita and the old man’s bodies. But the high point of both the lighting and set designs is a tinselly display on the right side of the stage that occasionally lights up like a series of chandeliers. It suggests the magic of romance — which we don’t glimpse often enough in this production.

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