With its current What We Talk About When We Talk About Love and Other Modern Dilemmas, Laterthanever Productions may have placed its cast party in serious jeopardy. The actors are so busy shuttling sandwiches and chips and finger foods and crème soda and gin and stuff that there might not be a budget for a post-production soirée. And all those starches and sugars? Let's hope nobody in the cast is hyperglycemic. After all, the county's only long-term critical-care center is several minutes away from the stage.
Seriously: I still don't know whether all those mountains of food and drink are supposed to assume the same importance as the make-up and costumes. The multiple settings in which they show up (this show is composed of three one-acts) and the subject matter (love and eats go together like Zeus and Jupiter, which are different names for the same god) lead me to believe they are. And Raymond Carver, the late short-story writer on whose work the plays are based, was heavy on modern consumerism as a backdrop—since these scripts are set in the junk-food '70s, empty calories make for an apt spot of color. But here, those calories are the elephant in a series of tiny rooms—and the decent acting only draws attention to the elephant's enormous bulk, which is never really addressed.
“What's in Alaska?” centers on two hippified couples whose lifestyles are long on pot and short on personal inventory; Mary (Krista Bell) probably couldn't point to Alaska on a map, any more than her significant other Carl (Neil MacDonald) gets the gist behind the concept of monogamy. Meanwhile, Mel (MacDonald) spins a serious tale of woe in the stern “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love”; for him, there's likely little difference between a marriage license and a suicide pact. “Put Yourself in My Shoes” is a poor man's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, with young couple Meyers and Hilda (Jude Evans and Jacque Wilke) showing all the earmarks of an embittered future, like Nick and Honey in the Edward Albee classic.
In all cases, the players understand their assignments, and they adorn them with forethought, from Mary's persistent, drug-induced titter to Hilda's lethal scowl to Meyers' fussy vocals to Mel's roily worldview (MacDonald is exceptional in this role amid his lanky comportment and his attempts to hide Mel's inebriation). In few cases do directors Federico Moramarco and Glynn Bedington massage those traits—Moramarco's adaptations are consistent but lean on anecdote, and if he couldn't exploit the constant presence of food as a salve for the characters' wounded psyches, Bedington surely should have.
This is one of those exceedingly rare programs in which wholesale stage nudity is probably appropriate, both as an illustration of the characters' exaggerated longings and as a metaphor for the misplaced sexual permissiveness of the 1970s. The way things stand now, food makes a poor substitute, chiefly because Bedington and Moramarco never pay it its due as a tool for character development. These characters are rubbed raw amid the modern complexities that seemed to encroach on '70s society overnight. Either have them engorge sloppily, unrelentingly and to the point of outrageousness or find another outlet for their pain.
This review is based on the preview performance of Jan. 8. What We Talk About When We Talk About Love and Other Modern Dilemmas runs through Feb. 1 at The Tenth Ave. Theatre, 930 Tenth Ave., Downtown. $25; call about discounts. 619-235-9353 or www.laterthanever.org.
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