A Marriage Minuet

Also see Ann's review of Rabbit Hole

Douglas Rees and Ross Bickell; Helena Ruoti and Deirdre Madigan
As if to turn the world on end, the City Theatre's published tagline for their current production A Marriage Minuet, "hilarious sex farce about love and the literary life," is not hyperbole. It really is hilarious. It's also smart, lean and refreshing. The talented five-member cast and effective directing by Tracy Brigden deliver this little ball of fun in a way such that any weaknesses in the play easily slide by, without spoiling a minute of the hour-and-a-half running time.

Wiltse provides four flawed characters. He doesn't really ask that we like them, only that we identify with, or at least recognize, the essence of their imperfections so we can appreciate the humor in their exaggerated forms. Douglas (Douglas Rees) is a literature professor, a little dry and, well, literary professorial. He and his wife Lily (Helen Ruoti) have love and respect for each other, they just don't have much sex. Rex (Ross Bickell) is an author of popular fiction (a "boiler of pot", as Doug describes). He's also a randy womanizer and not unwilling to tap his "groupie" fan base (Tami Dixon, who also appears in other un-named parts) for trysts. Rex's wife Violet (Deirdre Madigan) seems quietly resigned to her husband's infidelities, but it's clear her still waters run deep. This is a sex farce, a minuet - we know the couples will re-couple. How it happens doesn't make Douglas, Lily, Rex and Violet any more likeable, but the circumstances are just implausible enough to remind us that we're watching a farce, which allows us to continue to laugh at everyone's expense.

Jeff Cowie's lavish set design provides traditional staging, with scenery and props depicting apartments and a bookstore, combined with presentation accoutrements such as footlights, a theatre curtain, and a gilt proscenium. With the numerous scenes introduced by overhead titles and sometimes a brief dance (minuet, of course), there is a kind of vaudevillian atmosphere to the piece. I'm not convinced that is necessary or completely effective, but it doesn't harm. It does clash a bit with the broken fourth wall and the technique of characters sometimes saying what they're thinking or feeling ("Feigning interest") instead of what they would actually be saying to another character.

The City production is a Minuet reunion for Director Brigden, Choreographer Peter Pucci and actors Rees and Madigan, as they participated in the Westport Playhouse production in 2006. Frequent New York actor Bickell and Pittsburgh veteran Ruoti fit in well, as each character is brought to twisted clarity with great efficiency. Dixon has a ball with the supporting "Girl" characters, and is a comic delight, as always. This cast and director know comedy and they delightfully bring the piece to the top without going over. Playwright Wiltse should be proud - his work is in excellent hands.

A Marriage Minuet continues on City Theatre's mainstage through May 25. For performance and ticket information, call 412.431.CITY (2489) or visit www.citytheatrecompany.org/.

See the current Schedule of Pittsburgh Theatre.

-- Ann Miner

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