Those who are easily embarrassed should steer clear of Peter Ackerman’s ’92 comedy “Things You Shouldn’t Say Past Midnight.” The play begins and ends with loud, extended, verbally explicit sex scenes that are not for the squeamish or conservative play-goer. In Jonathan Wolf’s ’02 staged reading of the play this week, the audience is made uncomfortable enough watching the actors groan and squeal as they perch on stools and glance at their scripts; we can only imagine what would happen if we were actually to watch the action on stage.
The play listens in on the late-night bed talk of three couples Nancy (Jennifer Thompson ’03) and Ben (Joel Maguen ’02), Gene (Michael Graham ’02) and Grace (Anna Swanson ’02), and Mark (Ian Lowe ’04) and Mr. Abramson (Peter James Cook ’05) — and so comically explores both the trials and tribulations of nascent relationships and larger problems of self-identity, self-knowledge and the dynamic nature of the individual. None of these questions get answered, and it’s hard to tell whether the play moves forward to any sort of real conclusion — but the point seems to be merely to present these sorts of problems and to muse upon them.
The acting, despite the potential awkwardness of a staged reading, is by and large impressive. Graham as Gene, the thoughtful, sensitive Italian hit man who regrets never having gone to college and admits that whacking people “gets old,” is sweet and endearing. Swanson’s Grace, Gene’s sexually liberated and histrionic bedmate, expresses herself in shrieks and is a little too shrill — but then again, her character is probably a little too shrill as well. Lowe plays Mark, a gay therapist, with comic flair — he is soft-spoken and gentle as a therapist, giggly as a lover — and though Mr. Abramson (Cook), Mark’s elderly lover, is somewhat undefined, his masterful facial expressions and gruff tone are convincing.
Thompson and Maguen, who play Nancy and Ben, have a little more trouble. Thompson, though she plays her earnest and somewhat ditsy character smoothly, glances at her script often and awkwardly. Ben is a neurotic, self-hating Jew, but Maguen’s accent and affect are confused, and by the end we feel like we are watching not a poor Woody Allen, but, strangely, a poor Robert DeNiro (true, they’re both ethnic and have New York accents, but they certainly shouldn’t be confused).
Unfortunately, though the acting is mostly strong, the script leaves much to be desired. The characters are forever interrupting each other and repeating themselves, and the dialog stalls incessantly and seems to have trouble pushing forward — a difficulty that, though it may be meant to say something about romantic relationships, just detracts from the play. The scenes between ironic, Jewish Ben and earnest, Aryan Nancy have none of the flair or intelligence of a Woody Allen movie, and those between the thoughtful Italian hit man with an inner life and his melodramatic girlfriend have none of the charm of a “Sopranos” episode. It all comes up a little too stereotyped and rather flat, and in the end, in this comedy about sex, we are left, well, unsatisfied.
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