The script for Douglas Carter Beane’s latest comedy,
Mr. & Mrs. Fitch, now making its world premiere at Second Stage under Scott Ellis’ direction, consists mostly of warp-speed badinage. But the words are of so entertaining a caliber — and so gloriously delivered by stars John Lithgow and Jennifer Ehle — that audiences likely won’t mind the play’s lack of forward motion.
Shorn of the intricate plot twists that informed Beane’s best-known earlier works, When Bees in Honey Drown and The Little Dog Laughed, the play is essentially a character study, providing a privileged glimpse into a relationship which by rights shouldn’t work — but does, gleefully.
The Fitches are gossip columnists living out a 1930s dream of Gotham glamour in a nearly post-print age. This power couple seems to have it all: a congenial marriage, a duplex worthy of Cole Porter (whose lyrics provide the play’s title), and an occupation that guarantees an A-list nightlife. But the hounds of populist social media are howling at the door. What function do the Fitches serve if a crass arriviste like Perez Hilton or the hoi-polloi hordes of Galker Stalkers can scoop them with the greatest of ease?
As a result, they get a little lax one night, relying on a publicist’s pre-supplied guest list to file a report on an event that they don’t feel like attending. Unfortunately for them, one of the names they drop happens to drop dead the same night. To mollify their furious editor (heard in voiceover by Phillip Bosco), they’re forced to fabricate some filler. Thus the irresistible — and wholly fictional — pansexual charmer Jamie Glenn is created out of whole cloth. Keeping up with their newly created pseudo-celeb, however, proves harder than the Fitches realized.
While the performers give the show their verbal all, the usually rubber-limbed Lithgow seems somewhat constricted by the silk-pajama conventions expected of a smoothie; meanwhile, the most strenuous workout that Ehle endures — beyond tottering about in killer heels that ought to earn her combat pay — involves a near-culinary encounter with an uncooperative egg.
Hints are dropped early and often that Mr. Fitch is predominantly gay. (Bisexuality makes women appear “adventurous,” whereas men simply seem “indecisive,” quips Mrs. F.) Still, the couple’s own rapport is as fond and fizzy as a teenage romance — even if Mr. Fitch’s calling his wife “succubus” constitutes high praise. And yes, it’s sexual. Dinosaurs though they be, the Fitches’ blood runs hot. Love comes in all shapes, sizes, and configurations, suggests Beane. And most of all, certain accommodations ought to be made to ensure the survival of the wittiest.