Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Minneapolis/St. Paul

Jungle Theater, Same Time, Next Year

The Jungle Theater ends its 2005 season with Same Time, Next Year, Bernard Slade's 1970s hit about a couple committing low-level adultery over a quarter century. While still funny in stretches, this is a play showing its age.

Starting in 1951, and then revisiting the two main characters every five years or so, Same Time, Next Year explores not just their ever evolving relationship, but their evolving lives. After a chance meeting at a California hotel and a night of passion, East Coast CPA George and West Coast housewife Doris promise to meet again the following year, and the year after that ... and so on.

At times it comes off as a bit too pat, more like a bad Billy Joel song than an exploration of the characters and their world. "Look," it seems to scream, "it's the 1960s, so the man has to be some Goldwater conservative and the woman needs to be a proto-hippy; and now it's 1970, so she needs to be liberated and he has to be in analysis."

And there's an icky factor that really isn't explored: these two characters - two people we are supposed to care for - are betraying the loves of their lives, once a year, for a quarter century. It's tough to get behind characters when this part of them is left largely unexplored.

It's not a total loss. Slade's script still has humor and humanity in it, and the efforts of Jodee Thelen and Terry Hempleman as our merry adulterers bring some nice dimensions to the characters. No matter how clich├ęd their changes may be (or the action - you can almost predict when the heavy moments are going to show up), the actors are with their characters throughout the show.

The production, from director Bain Boehlke on down, makes the most of the changes that happen over this quarter century. And costume designer Amelia Cheever does a fantastic job evoking the dizzying changes in fashion over these years.

Before the show, Boehlke jokingly called this the Jungle's "holiday show." Yet, the term is apt. Same Time, Next Year is meant as a crowd pleaser, a funny show with some interesting twists that, in the end, does little to tax the audience.

Same Time, Next Year continues through Dec. 31 at the Jungle Theatre. Call 612-822-7063.

Actors' Equity Showcase, The Dumb Waiter

Here we have another single-set four-hander, but one with a mood, tone and message far from the glib bromides of Same Time, Next Year. Written at the beginning of Harold Pinter's long career, The Dumb Waiter already finds many of the newly minted Nobel laureate's favorite themes in place. There is alienation, a lack of communication, absurdity, and an understanding of life that is just out of reach, like the itch in the center of your back. Oh, and there are pauses. Lots of pauses.

This Actors' Equity Showcase production, presented at Theatre de la Jeune Lune, accents all of this. At times, the show threatens to spiral into a kind of incoherent tedium, but is always rescued from the brink to take the audience deeper and deeper into the maddening situation of our two main characters.

In a nutshell: Two men of undetermined occupation are waiting for their orders in a dank, dreary, almost dungeon-like room. The two discuss everything, and nothing - items in the newspaper, going to a football match, whether or not the phrase is "put the kettle on" or "put the gas on" - while they wait. Throughout it all, a general sense of menace and absurdity grows, especially when they start to receive messages from the outside world via a dumb waiter.

While the show does come to, at the very least, a somewhat clear ending, it is more about the relationship and (non) communication of its two characters. Ben and Gus, played by Chris Carlson and Steve Sweere, are like a classic comedy double-act, bantering throughout the show. However, in this case they aren't trading jokes, but seemingly banal discourses on matches and the identity of the cricketers in a photo on the wall. They also trade pauses - long, past-due pregnant pauses that raise the discomfort of the audience to the breaking point, but (amazingly) never going over the edge. Both performers are nearly spot on in their portrayals, with Carlson bringing a malicious edge to his character's banal statements, and Sweere showing that the unspoken work the two have done for years has ground his nerve down (though I wish Sweere would have dialed his intensity and volume down a bit in the early part of the show).

The setting only adds to the alienation and despair. Using the naked walls of the theater to define the space, and lit only with oppressive florescent light, the almost bare stage - two cots, a couple of chairs and the titular dumb waiter - drags us into the world of these characters. And at times, during the longest of pauses, it seems like we are never going to get out.

The Dumb Waiter runs at 10 p.m. Saturdays through Dec. 3 (plus an 8 p.m. show Nov. 28) at Theatre de la Jeune Lune. For more information, call 612-730-5951 for more information.

- Ed Huyck

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