Meg Gibson and Ray Anthony Thomas in Human Error
(© Monique Carboni)
Meg Gibson and Ray Anthony Thomas in Human Error
(© Monique Carboni)
The point of acting is simply to become the character portrayed with nothing extraneous showing at the edges. Meg Gibson and Tim Guinee succeed so well at that not simple challenge that they go some distance towards distinguishing Keith Reddin's well-crafted, emotionally effective, but somewhat slight one-act play Human Error, now at the Atlantic Theater Stage 2.

Gibson is Miranda and Guinee is Erik, a pair of National Transportation Safety Board analysts sent to figure out whether a plane crash in a Midwest field that left only one survivor was the result of a mechanical failure or human error. While both Miranda and Erik are experts at their jobs -- Reddin slots some convincing, black-box-referencing tech talk to establish this -- she's also recovering slowly from a marital break-up, and he's eager to consummate a crush he's had on her for some time.

Vivifying the situation, Gibson has the sloped shoulders and weary expression of someone who puts her beliefs most tersely when she says, "People -- they always seem to go away." She's reluctant to succumb to Erik's blandishments, even though it's fairly obvious from early on that she'd like to. Miranda is the kind of woman who knows that if she gives full rein to her passions, they'll run away with her. That is what eventually happens, and Gibson gets every nuance of it. All the while, she never ceases to convey an overriding suspicion that things never quite work out satisfyingly for Miranda.

On the other hand, Guinee has the energy and determination of a young pup. His Erik is one of those lads who knows a certain brand of persistence can be absorbed as charm, and that charm will bring him what he wants and whole-heartedly thinks he deserves, regardless of the consequences of his conquests. Filling in these lineaments, Guinee brims with good, panting humor, and his every move is an emblem of spontaneity. When the difficult circumstances Reddin concocts to overtake these two kick in, Gibson and Guinee give themselves over completely to the Miranda-Erik entanglement. So do director Tracy Brigden and fight choreographer Kathryn Ekblad.

Sharing Luke Hegel-Cantarella's commendably uncluttered set with Gibson and Guinee is Ray Anthony Thomas as Ron, the lone survivor. He's a farmer whose wife was killed when the out-of-control plane smashed into the couple's field. In Thomas' two scenes -- one while Ron is still hospitalized and the second some months later -- he does some exemplary acting on the high Gibson-Guinee level.

Ray becomes a man puzzled at losing the wife he loved in an unexpected moment and who's unable to shed a sense of loss. In Thomas' performance, Ron's tentative reaching out to Miranda, when she's not ready to be reached out to, has its own heart-tugging power.

By the way, Ron's presence in Reddin's scheme is clear. The oft-produced but underrated playwright is saying that love for some is easier than it is for others, but for no one does it promise anything approaching permanence. Perhaps this is not news or at this point the basis for more than a minor work. But the thought's always worth reiterating, especially if actors like Gibson, Guinee, and Thomas are available to demonstrate its truths.