Also see Richard's review of The Divine Sister
Credit director Deana Jent for giving her actors room to spread out and find their perfect size and pace, and Shaun Sheley for somehow becoming irresistible, in spite of being a thoughtful, kindhearted sort of noodge, and also a "dangerous liberal," according to her family (he's a Jewish accountant from St. Louis in 1944). And credit Meghan Maguire for being the Ozarks' great unattainable beautywho somehow loathes everything about her life, for reasons she makes sure are very difficult to unravel.
Thought and reason, like delicate tools in the hands of Mr. Sheley, work together to gradually create something like a great courtroom drama, till an old heartbreak is revealed along with the same jaw-dropping emotion you get when a witness finally confesses to some heinous crime under cross-examination. Except here, it's one of those moments so intensely personal, directed so beautifully and performed with all the shock of a stark detective novel, that you can almost smell the ozone after a lightning strike.
Producer Kathleen Sitzer calls this show a "valentine" to the community, and it boasts two truly beautiful performances. But it's more of a how-to guide for a long-term relationship, than some slickly designed romance that cynically runs you through a rat's maze of carefully concocted emotional equations, before it spits you out into the lobby again. Instead, there's a constant (almost wary) sort of exploration (in an idyllic setting), and careful examination and re-examination of all sorts of comments and insights and throwaway lines that are held up to reveal each person's character, subtly and gradually, as one should. It's everything that's missing from most great romantic tales, but handled in such a way as to make the reason and rational perfectly indispensible.
It's probably also a great lesson in how to find the right mate, if you can just get them to hang around for an hour and a half of gentle probing, one way or another. It's not so hard if you're in the audience, of course, because you just know, in spite of everything, somehow (against all odds) he's finally going to find a way to break through her mysterious reserve, all the while showing her he's the gentle, open, thoughtful person she needs.
So, it's kind of a miracle of construction, and also of "not saying exactly what you want," tootwo things you don't find very often anymore. You just have to have your "relationship ears" on, which is probably the first test of any good potential mate, anyway.
Through December 23, 2012, at the Jewish Community Center, #2 Millstone Campus Drive, on Scheutz Road, just west of Lindbergh (between Olive and Page Blvds.). For information visit www.newjewishtheatre.org or call (314) 442-3283.
* Denotes Member, Actors Equity Association, the union of professional actors and stage managers in the US.
Photo: John Lamb