There are certain topics that one avoids on first dates. Like race, politics, religion, Moby Dick, your ex. Mixed Blessings is the story of how these topics can make a first date go spectacularly wrong, and yet bear the fruit of a relationship.
Fundamentally, this play is a romance between two characters who like to argue with each other. Ruth (played by a refreshingly emotionally vulnerable Sarah Jacklin) is a Chicago woman unlucky in love and searching for a bit of meaning as she scrapes by in her studio apartment. She invites Ismail, a similarly unlucky secular Bosnian Muslim (Joshua Buursma, the playwright, who does well onstage), up to her apartment after a decent start of their first date, and, from there, the fireworks start. But despite their differences, the two eventually forge a relationship based on their scrapping and mutual struggles that turn the vitriolic into sweetness.
Structurally, Mixed Blessings shows us snapshot scenes of Ismail and Ruth’s relationship as it develops over time, bookended by monologues where they describe their emotional state. The show smacks of biography, perhaps with names changed to protect the guilty, as it trundles through the characters’ lives, events seeming to hurtle into Ruth and Ismail’s lives at random as they try to maintain their relationship.
Mixed Blessings is very true to life in this way. Life isn’t stories. Things happen without rhyme or reason, and we do our best to love each other (or not) as we try to cope. The result, here, is a play with a beginning, a middle, and an end. But it lacks a central dilemma, characters that show us how they think and feel (not just tell us), and no climax to speak of.
closes July 22, 2017
For some audience members that may not be an issue, and the meandering story exudes a sitcom vibe that would go comfortably with a comfy couch, a pint of ice cream, and a laugh track. But I’d prefer a play has a reason to be a play, which Buursma (as a writer) almost gives.
The perspective of Ismail as a Bosnian Muslim, passing as White and dating a secular Jew, contains both an unusual perspective and the seed of unique conflict. Buursma plays with the monologue structure once and unexpectedly, and that promises the most intriguing moment of the work. But the drama of that moment lifts the play for a brief instant, after which it settles back down into its comfort zone of the characters telling the audience who they are and how they feel.
I’d recommend this show as a date night for a couple like Ismail and Ruth, who love to bicker and make up, who feel like the tide of life keeps crashing on their shore, and who don’t feel like taking any risks in their Fringe-watching experience. If you’re looking for something weird, something cathartic, or something gripping, look someplace else.