Not surprisingly, the most "interesting" offering is Neil LaBute's ironically titled Romance, in which a jilted lover returns a year after the jilting to confront his jilter. The two men (Jeff Binder and Demond Green) in this aborted same-sex relationship review the cause of their romantic demise -- habitual infidelity on the part of the jilter -- and come to a satisfactory conclusion once it's clear that what they each want from a love affair is radically opposed.
As usual, LaBute's ear for searingly convincing dialogue distinguishes the work, and the men's situation is thoroughly recognizable as an instance of how romance survives (or doesn't) in a contemporary world where the concept of monogamy is under constant strain.
Curiously, though, the playwright's intention seems not to be illustrating the give-and-take between once-close people, but to create an acting exercise. LaBute asks that his affecting playlet be performed twice with the actors switching roles the second time around. While the pair are excellently flexible, the interpretations of the parts are unsurprisingly similar, and any differences are probably due to Dolores Rice's direction.
In the evening's curtain-raiser, Deb Margolin's The Expenses of Rain, Harry (Iyaba Ibo Mandingo) -- sporting colorful tatters and quasi-dreads -- stands on a valise and talks about quitting his job disconnecting electricity in favor of preaching about the pleasures of sun and rain. Jo Yang, doubling as women he encounters, and director Laura Barnett don't help ameliorate the increasingly cloying atmosphere.
Roger Hedden's Play With the Penguin, an examination of how to make a marriage remain fresh, owes much to Eugene Ionesco's "absurd" notions but falls shy of the inspiration. In the work, childless couple Joy (acerbic Allison Daugherty) and Hap (astringent Alex Manette) exchange clever banter over their dining-room table, but still aren't happy. So Hap brings home Peter (delightful Josh Helman), a cellist in a tuxedo, who manages to rekindle the couple's shared regard. The play, however, fails to entertain or enlighten, no matter how hard the actors and director Billy Hopkins try.
Finally, Timothy Mason's An Actor Prepares is an Oedipal exercise involving dad Tom (the obviously accomplished Mark Elliot Wilson), a one-time mainstay of classy 1960s British acting companies, and son Aran (the fine James Leighton), an aspiring actor hoping to get his now-hopelessly-alcoholic father on the mend. Maxwell Williams directs his players around a tousled bed to no particularly edifying end.
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