So what do you scream out in the throes of ecstasy? Should a person get a freedom-to-express pass even when the turn-on becomes racially or otherwise offensive? Is nasty necessarily exciting? Keegan’s new play asks us to take a look at our most secret desires, and, as it spills out intimate details about bedroom mores, it keeps us in stitches – sometimes screamingly so.
Things You Shouldn’t Say Past Midnight is a new kind of bedroom farce. With three couples in three separate beds, playwright Peter Ackerman explores modern sexual interactions and how hard it is to get the Three Bears Principle “just right.” Couple Number One, Nancy and Bob, have a seemingly compatible serious relationship until Nancy’s inadvertent slur opens a potentially big rift: he’s a Jew and she’s a shiksa.
Couple Number Two, Grace and Gene, are new as lovers and shakily so as their erotic excitement seems based on the need to exaggerate their intellectual and class inequality.
Couple Number Three represents the theatrically ubiquitous, sassily quipping gay couple Mark and Mr. Abramson, who are there to remind us that serious age differences may also play into the sexual attraction equation.
The acting is “just right,” and all six performers deliver totally believable, fully developed characters, demonstrating this ensemble has a flair for relationship comedy. Caroline Wolfson and Michael Innocenti play Nancy and Bob whose past-midnight fight sets in motion the dramatic interactions pulling in all the other characters. Wolfson and Innocenti are deliciously comfortable in their acting skins and expertly navigate the journey between full-throttle exposure and embarrassed privacy. Innocenti especially has a face that can portray angst and bewilderment more than any actor on the Washington scene.
Peter Finnegan plays Gene with a walk drawn from Brando in On the Waterfront and a hit man’s itch to keep his finger protectively on a trigger. He touched me with his struggle to pull himself out of his limited blue-collar world view, while his reactions to his college girlfriend and others, all way more articulate and “out there” than he was comfortable with, showed marvelous comic timing. Allison Corke nailed the abrasive self-confidence and restlessness of a privileged co-ed Grace, stating exactly what she wants and expecting the world to deliver it, yet the actress can throw a switch and demonstrate off-balanced vulnerability nicely.
Kevin Hasser and Timothy H. Lynch are written into this play with less mileage than the other two couples. Lynch in particular is mostly limited to slightly off-color jokes about aging and erection capability. (Alas, we are indeed a society obsessed with performance anxiety and enhancers.) However, I loved the burning ferocity he displayed in the fight to right the wrong done to a fellow “tribe” member. Hasser, as Gene’s brother and Grace’s therapist, portrayed that quirky exaggerated positivism of many in the “helping profession.” His enthusiasm to analyze and make corrective changes and his passion to please were written all over his wide-open face and slightly wired forward posturing.
Ackerman’s play teeters at times with its stereotype jokes and occasionally even flat lines, staying with the same motif a little long, but mostly it is an entertaining romp. I especially loved the playwright’s probing into what happens in a relationship which was, as the character Ben describes it, “95% f..king great” until it lurches towards disaster as slips provoke insults then deeper admissions and sharing of questions of identity and unearthed desires.
Turning the title on its head, Ackerman ultimately makes the case that even verbal train wrecks can be a springboard to self-examinations and bring people closer together. The playwright and this company prove that what really happens under the sheets, that is, getting down to honest talk, is the most exciting and stimulating “turn on” of all.
Colin Smith directs the play with an emphasis on pacing and verve. Despite the explicit sexual subject matter, he has not gratuitously exploited the performers and indeed handled all matters of costuming and stage action with discretion. I appreciated this enormously and found that it allowed me to follow the questions the play raised more fully.
THINGS YOU SHOULDN’T SAY PAST MIDNIGHT
Closes June 7, 2014
1742 Church Street, NW
1 hour, 30 minutes, no intermission
Tickets: $25 – $30
Weekends and some weekdays
running in rep with A Midsummer Night’s Riot
Details and Tickets
Innocenti did double labor for this production by designing the set with director Colin Smith on three levels to create three separate bedrooms that proved most suitable to the action. I was only sad that the big skylight that dominated a high region of center stage, suggesting a big framing opportunity, was not used.
Allan Sean Weeks’ lighting design coalesced the three rooms and worlds in the play nicely. Kelly Peacock coordinated the lingerie wardrobe and managed to create a comfortable, realistic palette and feel to the costumes.
Note: On leaving the theatre after the show, prepare to open up to the person you came with because the play certainly provokes some honest discussion. Does sex allow us the freedom to express ourselves safely and openly or does it reveal deeply held prejudices and insecurities that can threaten the viability of our most intimate relationships?
Things You Shouldn’t Say Past Midnight by Peter Ackerman . Directed by Colin Smith . Featuring Caroline Wolfson, Allison Corke, Michael Innocenti, Peter Finnegan, Kevin Hasser and Timothy Hayes Lynch . Assistant Director: Brianna Letourneau . Scenic Design: Michael Innocenti/Colin Smith . Lighting Design: Allan Weeks . Costume Design: Kelly Peacock . Sound Design: Dan Deiter . Properties Designer and Set Dressing: Carol Hood Baker . Hair and Makeup Design: Craig Miller . Stage Manager: Megan Thrift . Produced by The Keegan Theatre . Reviewed by Susan Galbraith.