Relationships are complicated. Sometimes you're in one, trying to get out; sometimes you're out of one, trying to get in; other times you're working hard to shift a partner's point of view, or simply trying to figure out your place in the world of your partner - or ex-partner.
Richard Dresser's Gun-Shy, running through Saturday at the Village Players Theatre, explores the emotional tics, baggage, highs, lows, and detours of relationships with a plethora of funny lines and fine performances all around.
It's too bad that three of the four main characters are so darn unlikeable, and the fourth has his problems.
There's Evie, a divorcee who is now in a committed relationship in the Pacific Northwest with a pretentious coffee salesman named Carter. Evie's ex, Duncan, a recovering alcoholic, has allied himself with Caitlin, an upwardly mobile, forever dieting fund-raiser. Duncan lives in Boston; his and Evie's adolescent son, Jack, is in a New England prep school.
Evie and Duncan both want to settle down with their new partners, but Carter and Caitlin shy away from commitment. Carter was traumatized in his former marriage when he discovered that his son wasn't really his. Caitlin, who is in her early 20s, liked the excitement of an affair, and with the thrill of deceit gone, she isn't sure how she feels about the relationship.
The first act is a series of short scenes that flip between the couples, who seem to talk more about their former relationships than their current ones. The second act gets both couples together, as Evie and Carter arrive in Boston for Jack's birthday party. But a blizzard has socked in the East Coast, stranding Jack at school and the two couples together in Duncan's house.
Director Dave DeChristopher has his cast stressing the farcical elements of the play, perhaps to keep the audience from realizing that the two relationships are train wrecks waiting to happen. There are plenty of laughs; Dresser's play is written like a sitcom, and one-liners zing around the stage, often nonstop.
But underlying the laughter is the feeling that if the four main characters weren't so self-absorbed, there wouldn't be enough fodder for a play.
The cast gets plenty of credit for keeping the audience interested. Evie is controlling and determined that the world make her happy, not exactly pleasant traits, but Debbie Marinik actually makes her sympathetic. John Jennens finds a lot of humor in the constantly competitive Carter, who exudes a macho persona but was deeply hurt by his first wife's betrayal.
Larry Farley is Duncan, who is bewildered by the women in his life. He truly wants to settle down with Caitlin, but the 20-year gulf in their ages is less of a problem than the two-decade gulf in their attitudes and experiences. As Caitlin, Shannon Cooch is called upon to make some feather-headed statements, but she always gives the impression that there is a brain hiding among all of Caitlin's insecurities.
DeChristopher made one change in Dresser's play, and it is a stroke of genius. The original script calls for one actor to play a variety of minor roles, including waiter, massage therapist, accountant, and fertility-clinic technician. In the Village Players' production, the duties are split between Norb Mills and JaMay Edwards, who also serve as the stage crew. During the scene changes, they tango around the stage and flirt with each other and the audience, bringing a healthy dose of charm to the proceedings.
We may not be sure that Carter and Evie, Caitlin and Duncan know how to be happy, but we're positive that Norb and JaMay do, and that little bit of fun adds just enough warmth to make the entire evening utterly enjoyable.
"Gun-Shy" continues at 8 p.m. tonight-Saturday in the Village Players Theatre, 2740 Upton Ave. Tickets are $14 for adults, $12 for seniors and students. The show is not recommended for youngsters. Information: 419-472-6817.
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