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Philadelphia by Tim Dunleavy

An Infinite Ache and
Strictly Platonic

Also see Tim's reviews of The Mountaintop, Lungs and Deathtrap

For this Valentine's Day week, here are two plays about romance. Each runs 90 minutes; each is about love lost and won; each has jokes about leaving unanswered phone messages. Each contains more talk than action: one play has a single, brief kiss, while the other has none at all. But neither show is particularly good. Theatre Horizon's An Infinite Ache has an interesting concept, but it isn't executed particularly well. And Hedgerow Theatre's Strictly Platonic has a tired concept, although it's redeemed by a peppy cast.


Bi Jean Ngo and Griffin Stanton-Ameisen
Photo: www.plate3photography.com
Playwright David Schulner's An Infinite Ache introduces us to Hope (Bi Jean Ngo) and Charles (Griffin Stanton-Ameisen) on a typical first date full of awkwardness and missed signals. But then they fast-forward through the next fifty years, imagining what their lives together might be like. Scenes flash by, sometimes only one sentence long: they're having lots of sex, then they're not having any; they say they'd like to get a dog, then we see them kept awake at night by the dog's barking; their baby is crying in her crib, then that baby is off to college. A real crisis emerges halfway through the evening, but by then it's too late for the play to find its footing.

All of this is presented without any insight; the fast pace doesn't make the situations any less stale. The couple's ethnic differences (he's Jewish, she's Chinese/Filipino) don't produce enough friction, and Megan Nicole O'Brien's direction doesn't produce enough spark (or enough humor). The script depicts Charles as a hyper neurotic, but Stanton-Ameisen's performance smooths out all the edges to the point of blandness. Ngo, however, is the best thing about An Infinite Ache, making Hope's doubts and insecurities seem poignant.


Brendan Cataldo and Sarah Braverman
Strictly Platonic,
written and directed by Larry McKenna, is a straightforward comedy, a sort of 21st century, less funny version of Come Blow Your Horn. Tim (Brendan Cataldo) is a shallow ladies' man who meets his match when he runs into Annie (Sarah Braverman), a sarcastic blind woman who isn't bowled over by his glib charm. They meet cute, they break up cute, they reunite cute ... heck, they just plain are cute.

Tim is so concerned about using shopworn phrases on his many female conquests that he asks his co-worker Josh (Jamie Goldman), "Am I cliché?" But it's not just his words that Tim has to worry about; everything about Strictly Platonic is clichéd, from Tim himself (an uncultured lout who finally finds out what love is thanks to a good woman) to Annie (a disabled character who isn't bothered in the least by her disability and makes everyone else feel good by her mere presence). And the comedy is often dead on arrival: when Annie makes a good joke ("I recently had my cane equipped with a taser"), the follow-up kills the laugh ("Really?!" says a dumber-than-usual Tim; "No, not really," replies Annie).

Despite up-to-date references to the Kardashians and "The Bachelor," Strictly Platonic still feels like a leftover from a 1960s summer stock season. And it's full of jokes that induce a smile but rarely a guffaw; I laughed less than eleven times during the play's eleven scenes. But Cataldo and Braverman are immensely appealing. And so are Goldman as Cataldo's sidekick and Hilary Bucell as a hottie who makes all the guys in her office quiver with lust (say, what decade is it again?). As long as this likable quartet is onstage, you may not mind how hackneyed their play is.

An Infinite Ache runs through February 17, 2013, at Theatre Horizon, 401 DeKalb Street, Norristown, Pa. Tickets are $31, with discounts available for students and seniors, and are available by calling 610-283-2230 or online at www.TheatreHorizon.org.

Strictly Platonic runs through March 2, 2013, at Hedgerow Theatre, 64 Rose Valley Road, Rose Valley, Pennsylvania. Ticket prices are $25 to $32, with discounts for seniors, students and children, and may be purchased by calling the box office at 610-565-4211 or online at www.HedgerowTheatre.org.


-- Tim Dunleavy



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