John Cariani's portrait of rural life is sticky sweet and whimsical, but it does have some substance.
As a portrait of rural life, this play is no Winesburg, Ohio, but it does contain a certain amount of substance, wit, and intelligence. The action of all nine vignettes that make up the piece begins at 9pm on a winter's Friday night, as the townsfolk fall in and out of love with each other. In one of the funniest sketches, a simple young man named Steve is sitting in a laundry room and scribbling in a notebook marked "Things That Hurt" when fellow laundry-doer Marvalyn accidentally smacks him with an ironing board. Unfazed, he tells her that he was born with underdeveloped nerve endings and therefore has to record hazardous situations for his own protection. Believe it or not, this conversation turns to serious questions of love and religion.
Cariani's magical realistic tone is often quite appealing; missing shoes literally fall from the heavens, and so on. But, eventually, the audience's tolerance for whimsy is pushed to the limit. Part of the problem is the play's two-hour running time, too long for what is ultimately a series of barely connected sketches. An even larger concern is the author's tendency to be folksy at the expense of dramatic integrity. In one blinkered scene, a married couple with two children decides to call it quits after an unhappy anniversary; the wife drives away, leaving her husband stranded at the skating rink, but he's too busy wistfully contemplating the mysteries of the universe to notice that she's gone.
Four actors are called upon to play the show's 19 different roles. Miriam Shor, who managed to convince people that she was rock-and-roll hunk Yitzhak in Hedwig and the Angry Inch, once more proves her chameleonic abilitiies and even gets to do the gender-bending shtick again as the decidedly masculine Rhonda. Todd Cerveris plays a series of naïfs with charm to spare, while Justin Hagan is grounded in his roles. Only Finnerty Steeves overdoes her characters' sitcom-style quirkiness.