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Made In Heaven

Theatre Review by Matthew Murray

Made In Heaven
Matthew Bondy, Alex Anfanger, Kevin Thomas Collins, and Maia Madison.
Photo by Carol Rosegg.

Trash theatre doesn’t get much trashier than Made in Heaven. But it doesn’t get much funnier, either. Jay Bernzweig’s play, which just opened at the SoHo Playhouse following a tryout at this summer’s Midtown International Theatre Festival, may be a one-joke evening, but both the playwright and his director, Andrew Shaifer, ensure that that joke is exploited for all it’s worth. And that proves enough - barely - to sustain over most of 90 minutes a premise that in most hands would grow tiresome after 10 minutes, tops.

Specifically, that brothers Max (Kevin Thomas Collins) and Benjie (Alex Anfanger) are conjoined twins who are connected at the, uh, groin. Well, to get technical, they “share six major organs,” but there’s only one they’re particularly concerned about. And that one, primarily, because Max has grown so attached to Jessica (Maia Madison) over the three months the brothers have known her that he wants to marry her. Benjie even likes her, too. Just not quite in that way. Because he’s gay. And has never told anyone. Including Max. Until now.

Because Max and Jessica want Benjie to be as happy as they are, they agree to let him call a male escort to experience the kind of sex he dreams about. (The brothers have been with plenty of women, mind you, but Benjie tells Max he likens it to “riding shotgun while you go rooting around in the shrubbery.”) But when Gilbert (Matthew Bondy) arrives, there’s just one problem: He’s really Jessica’s ex-husband! No, really. They didn’t exactly get along, maybe because Gilbert (whose real name is Jack) considers himself only predominantly straight - 70/30, he claims, or maybe 60/40. “Our marriage was like being trapped in a small, dark, airless room,” Gilbert complains to Jessica. She shoots back: “It was rent-controlled!”

It’s all almost parodically torrid, with the four struggling to make things work in and out of the bedroom, with various disagreements, deceptions, and Gilbert disrobing whenever it’s convenient (and sometimes when it’s not). And everything would be much harder to absorb all the absurdity if Shaifer and his company didn’t follow through on the script’s copious promises for elaborate physical comedy. But they do, and they help keep the production fizzing long after it seems like it should have gone flat.

Collins and Anfanger, who stand side by side in giant four-legged jeans (from costume designer Jeffrey Wallach), have the right rapport and coordination to make the brothers’ travails appropriately hilarious. A priceless bit occurs in the first scene, when one’s crossing his legs has bizarre consequences for the other; it’s just as funny when it’s revisited later, when the other brother attempts the same thing. Later, Benjie, desperate to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night, drags heavy sleeper Max along with a bewildering jumping jack-like move. And, of course, there’s more than one instance where a kissing or sex outing goes raucously awry. If the gags never exactly build, nor do they ever get old - assuming you didn’t find them too ancient to enjoy in the first place.

If any of this is not what you’re into, and those brief (but highly representative) snippets of the dialogue don’t tap your funny bone, Made in Heaven will probably not be heaven for you. That’s because there’s just not much more going on here - this is unquestionably the shallow end of the dramatic swimming pool. Oh, Bernzweig pays lip service to dissecting the difficulties of modern relationships, and suggests and attempts to defend that the brothers are better adjusted than either the self-esteem-free or the sleeps-with-anything Gilbert, but those come across as little more than concessions. Once the daffiest humor wears off at about the 75-minute mark, deeper feelings need to carry the show to the finish line - and there are none to shoulder the load.

Even the actors are nominal at best, with only Anfanger finding any noticeable blend of intense sexual desire, frustration, and genuine love for the others. Everyone else comes across as pretty one-dimensional. Who can blame them? They’re in the theatrical equivalent of a Will Ferrell or Seth Rogan movie, the kind of play you see when you want to laugh for all the wrong reasons. For a more thoughtfully artistic interpretation of the conjoined-twin lifestyle, seek out a production of Henry Krieger and Bill Russell’s musical about the Daisy and Violet Hilton, Side Show. Just don’t expect to laugh as much - but also expect not to need to shower afterwards.


Made In Heaven
SoHo Playhouse, 15 Vandam Street (6th Ave & Varick / 7th Avenue)
Running Time: 1 hour 30 minutes with no intermission
Tickets online and current Performance Schedule: SoHo Playhouse