Fiction is a play full of "uh-oh" moments. We are introduced to Linda and Michael through a flashback scene of their initial meeting in a cafe in Paris. Their banter is witty and clever, and it's clear from the start that both are well aware of their own wit and cleverness. Though characters with more than healthy egos are often difficult to like, it's easy to have an interest in what happens to Linda and Michael because they are so well suited to each other, and their self-importance isn't overbearing. Back in the present, it is revealed that Linda has a fatal brain tumor and only a few weeks to live ("20 meals," as she measures). She tells Michael she'd like him to read her journals after she dies (there's a small "uh-oh" moment). But, wait - once Michael agrees, Linda says she should then be able to read his journals before she dies (big "uh-oh"). The rest of the play involves the reading of their journals, flashbacks to what the journals reveal, and the resolution of the tear in their relationship that occurs due to said revelations.
By play's end, it's clear how fine Dietz' writing is. Though there are spots throughout in which it seems lines don't make sense, eventually we find they were non-telegraphed hints at twists to come. How satisfying this is, as the play progresses, to have these apparent missteps fall into place like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. It's a very well put together story.
Helena Ruoti and Andrew May turn in solid performances as Linda and Michael. They deliver the wordy exchanges faultlessly and with spirit. Each character speaks as if expecting to be quoted, which might have turned out to be very artificial. But, even though they may not remind us of anyone we know, they come across as real people. The only drawback is that the two actors don't have as much chemistry as we would expect from two people married happily for 16 years. Rebecca Harris plays Abby, who is revealed as Michael's paramour and who, with Linda, plays an important part in the plot's separation of fact from fiction. Harris does a very nice job, though her role is more important for its effect on Linda and Tom than its depth.
Adding to the enjoyment of this production is a superb set by Tony Ferrieri. Aided by terrific lighting by Andrew David Ostrowski, the unique design adds a perspective to the very simple set that opens up the small stage and evokes an assortment of atmospheres. Tracy Brigden succeeds again with effective direction. The simple, contemporary costumes of Michael McAleer do not change significantly throughout the production.
Fiction runs through March 20 on the City Theatre's mainstage. For performance and ticket information, call 412-431-CITY or visit www.citytheatrecompany.org.
Bad Dates continues on the City's Hamburg Studio stage through March 26.
Photo: Ric Evans