Ah, men! Ah, women! In three short plays, Jason Cicci showcases three couples, each in a different stage of relationship, but these couples don't have any more of a clue about any of it than anyone else. The light comedy in Him & Her is written with a sure hand, so it hardly mattered that there was hardly any more substance to it than what's in the title.
The first couple in fact is identified in the program as Him and Her (Greg Stuhr and Samantha Brown). They don't need to call each other by name, and when we come upon them they are in the middle of something -- they're in a car (except when they're not) going somewhere (except when they're not). What exactly they're in the middle of is clear to them, but the audience must assemble the pieces from their playful banter, their sniping, their push-pull and pull-push. They argue about the natures of men and women as they do (and don't do) whatever it is they're doing. But who are they? What's the story? She has to make a decision on whether they're going someplace and if so, where. She calls him a "rusher" and he calls her "staller." He's mostly bluster, while she seems more real -- but it still is marking time, and running in place. It was a good thing Stuhr and Brown were interesting to watch and listen to through all the attitudes they portrayed. Things got interesting when they told what their friends said about the other one, and when Brown said, "I do want to go!" it all fell into place.
If style triumphed over substance in the first piece, there was almost too much character in the second. Janice (Kim Winter) and Jimmy (Lou Carbonneau) are strangers, sharing a car on their way to a wedding. Janice talks a lot and is borderline hysterical, having just broken up with a boyfriend. (Winter pulled off the difficult task of making her character extremely funny while clearly in emotional distress.) Jimmy gets into the swing, yelling out the car window about his last three failed relationships -- and Carbonneau was quite funny himself, particularly when he talked about his failed painting career. Thankfully, the characters' suspicion and testiness don't resolve themselves into warm and fuzzy, but knowing who these two are, what they're doing, and where they are going made this more satisfying than the first piece.
The third playlet is an expansion of a story Jimmy told Janice about Arliss (Howard Pinhasik), a middle aged man who is divorcing his wife Patty (Liz Nagengast) to marry a 60-year-old woman he met. As they decorate their garage for a Christmas party, their relationship comes clearly into focus -- he's patronizing and condescending, and she can't believe what's happening. But as before, the story is told in comic dialogue, and Nagengast was particularly good at it, punctuating her lines with a snap of the scotch tape dispenser she wore on her wrist. And even better, it was clear who these two characters are, what they're reacting to and against, and since there is even a little back-story, they seemed the most complete of the three couples.
The set, a car interior, served the three plays well, and if it seemed a little forced that Arliss and Patty would be decorating their garage, it was good counterpoint to the first play to see them in and out of their car. Lighting was most effective in Jimmy and Janice's story, where an occasional flashing light seemed to indicate traffic. Costumes were likely out of the actors' closets, but Patty's party dress was especially festive (production design by Maruti Evans). Songs were well-chosen to punctuate the action -- "Love Will Keep Us Together, "Slow Hand," and particularly "Mistletoe Mambo." Director Catherine Zambri showed a sure touch with the actors, and if the women were a little better with the writer's patter than the men, it may have been because author Cicci seemed to have more affection for them.
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Copyright 2002 David Mackler