A Facebook group proclaims, “… and then, shit got AWKS.” The group provides a safe haven for anyone whose romantic life has gotten a bit, well, confusing. For example, qualifying scenarios would include when a significant other changes gender, or a straight friend decides, while drunk, that she wants to steal her best friend’s girlfriend, or some kind of threesome/foursome/dodecasome goes down involving multiple suitemates and a copy of The Communist Manifesto. Whatever the case, in each instance, everyone involved finds his/her/itself stifled by a chronic case of the awkies the next day. Matt Kirsch ’04’s “Mary Beth,” while it steers clear of the Co-Op Dance, wittily revels in that morning-after romantic awkwardness.
The play follows the story of Mary Beth, a 6’2″ toll-both-worker-turned-marriage-counselor who is consistently asked, “Are your parents volleyball players?” “Are you related to Abraham Lincoln?” or “Are you sure you’re not a lesbian?” To cover up for her insecurity, Mary Beth, played by the brilliant Victoria Neiman ’06, develops a flashy, corny sense of humor, hoping someone, someday will just hold hands with her while she watches television rather than ask her to explain away her appearance.
While the script itself is funny, most of the time, it provides Neiman with the typical Smokey Robinson “Tears of a Clown” material to work with. However, with her intonation, body language, and sensitivity to comedic timing, Neiman manages to make her sometimes trite role edgy, bumping the laugh track up from “chuckle” to “guffaw.”
Sam Kahn ’08, Mary Beth’s commitment-phobic romantic interest who is ever only referred to as the “date,” plays an enjoyably funny part, but it is difficult to discern where his humor comes from: the script, his real-life personality, or his wacky ’80s costume.
Dan Kluger ’07 and Tara Rodman ’07 play Mary Beth’s only patients, Mark and Dana. It is with this couple that the intricacies of the set come to life. The stage, laid out from left to right as a multi-purpose dining room, bedroom, and bathroom, is riddled with mirrors, giving the audience full view of the characters. This simultaneously challenges the audience to judge the characters as well as themselves, bringing out the play’s major theme of self-consciousness. Kluger plays Mark, a nerdy, soft-spoken husband who feels emasculated by his former model wife. Over dinner, Dana (Rodman) notices that Mark consistently looks at himself in the mirror. While Dana construes the nervous tic as narcissism, Mark tries to explain it is an act of self-consciousness. The two try to jump start their “dead battery” relationship by filming themselves having sex, and awkward semi-hilarity ensues. While the comedic timing in the scenes between these two could be made snappier, feigning foreplay onstage is hard (pun intended), and the two should be applauded.
Bix Bettwy ’08 and Max Broude ’07 make up the play’s third awkward couple, with Bettwy playing Greg, the typical 13-year-old, and Broude as Dad, the aging widower struggling to raise his son. While many of their interchanges are predictable, Broude delivers a poignant performance, at one point using a quilt named “Mr. Quilt” as a scene partner (this scene evokes one of the most brilliant one-liners of the play). Bettwy’s performance is most remarkable for his body language, standing with his feet pigeon-toed just enough to show Greg’s immaturity without overdoing it.
Altogether, “Mary Beth,” directed and produced by Brian Reed ’07, is performed by actors wittier than the script. While this adds a bit of awkwardness, in a play about awkwardness, that couldn’t be bad.