Also see Suzanne's review of Breath, Boom
The world premiere of Arthur Laurents' 2 Lives represents an unusual collaboration between two Boston theatres. Some months ago the Lyric Stage Company, one of Boston's well-entrenched smaller theatres, was approached by Nicholas Martin, Artistic Director of the much larger and better-endowed Huntington Theatre. Martin was looking for an appropriate, intimate space to direct a regional production of Laurents' play as a prelude to Lincoln Center (now proposed for July, 2004). Everyone benefits from Artistic Director Spiro Veloudos' decision to make 2 Lives part of the Lyric's regular season.
This play is an intriguing semi-autobiographical story of a septuagenarian playwright named Matt Singer. As played by actor Tom Aldredge, a Broadway mainstay for the last four decades, Matt isn't nearly as cocksure as Laurents comes across in person. And at 75, Aldredge isn't as spry as the amazingly fit 84-year-old Laurents either.
Tom Aldredge, Elizabeth Wilson and James Sutorius
Photo by Maryann Zschau
Matt is rejuvenated by the prospects of a Broadway production of his new play in the offing from Leo Kondracki, a movie mogul dabbling as a theatrical producer. Leo is deliciously portrayed by Boston actor Jeremiah Kissel as a thinly disguised (albeit somewhat thinner) Scott Rudin.
The true inspiration for the writing spurt and the reason for the serenity and spirituality Matt has come to feel later in life is Howard, his partner of 35 years. Based on Laurents' real life partner, a successful Long Island real estate developer and landscaper, he's disarmingly represented here by James Sutorius.
For details of the real people, check out Laurents' 2000 autobiography Original Story By: A Memoir of Broadway and Hollywood. It's a good read. But for an inspired take on friendship, love, art and sex go see what's been put on stage.
In a divergence from the facts, Laurents' imagines the unimaginable. A few days short of his 65th birthday, Howard drops dead, sending the household of weekend guests, family and long-term employees into a tailspin. Matt opts for denial; Kondracki withdraws his commitment to the play.
What's so intriguing about 2 Lives is not that it's based on real people and real events, but that it offers a heartfelt glimpse into the roots, blossoming and nurturing of a mature and enduring love partnership.
Set entirely in a hidden park tamed from its natural, unruly state by Howard's care and patience into something fruitful and lasting, the garden provides a personal oasis that Matt can chose to invite others into or not. Laurents treads on this metaphor lightly; designer James Noone is much too literal with the dyed green Flokati carpet underfoot. Better to trust our imaginations to fill in the magic of this place.
At this point, there's a lot of flotsam and jetsam thrown in with the flora and fauna of the play. Much as I love Elizabeth Wilson, she's a bit too robust for Howard's mother, a woman in her nineties. The ditties she sings when she can't think of what she wants to say are intrusive, a missed opportunity to provide a picaresque comment on the goings on.
The others who make an appearance can be pruned and cultivated. Houseguests Willi and Nerissa (Susan Kellermann and Cigdem Onat) provide an amusing glimpse into the difficulty of maintaining old friendships and admitting new ones into a "life of 2" that has so carefully weeded out the complications over the years. (Local designers could take a lesson from the drape and fit of the costumes provided for these two women by Theoni V. Aldredge.)
Late in the play Nerissa offers a counter argument to the grieving Matt that art, in and of itself, can fulfill a life. If the seeds of that idea were planted earlier on, the point could flower in the end and better serve the play.
The much younger local couple Matt and Howard have absorbed into their lives offers a welcome generational and social contrast. The simple, honest reaction of Scooter and Meryanne (Michael Kaye and Helen McElwain) to every event underscores the duplicity of everyone else. These young people also want what they want and need what they need, but not at the expense of Matt and Howard whom they look up to, respect and love.
Laurents comes perilously close to making us own up to the terror inherent in the idea of suddenly losing one's life partner. Working against our giving over to that realization is the encapsulation of events into a single weekend. Admittedly, no one would want these particular houseguests to linger, but Matt's dilemma needs to unfold over a longer period of time for it to be absorbed by him and by us. I trust this is what these folks are here in Boston to figure out.
2 Lives presented by the Lyric Stage Company in association with the Huntington Theatre now through April 12th Performances are Tuesdays through Sundays at the Lyric Stage Company, 140 Clarendon St. (Copley Square), Boston, Mass (in the YWCA Building, 2nd floor.) For tickets and information: (617) 437-7172 or online at www.lyricstage.com.