Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Somewhere in Between

Though the context of Ryan Sprague's title ends up being a last-minute poetic turn to the audience, it's an apt description of his bi-polar play, Somewhere in Between. At first, everything's passive-aggressive and held close as Greg (Erik Gullberg) visits his brother, Joshua (Jeffrey A. Wisniewski). Then, with the arrival of Joshua's wife, Lissa (Ariel J. Woodiwiss), things loosen up, for this Christian-rocking, volunteer-crazed wife isn't afraid to speak her mind. Finally, by the end of the play, things go full-on crazy, with a LaButean twist that squanders some of show's the well-earned drama. In other words, the best parts of Sprague's play are stuck in between parts that don't work so well.

Luckily, though there's nothing particularly new about Somewhere in Between, Sprague doesn't skimp on the little details. So though we don't know at first why Greg's come to visit his brother, it's telling that he hasn't brought a coat--or any bags--with him to wintry Chicago. Likewise, there's a lot to be learned from the way Joshua offers him his coat, and by the look Lissa gives him for doing so. The banter is cute, too: when Joshua explains that Lissa finds him "colorful," Greg's resentfully jokey response--as if he could be reduced so easily--"What am I, a box of Crayolas?" (It must be in their blood: they get a laugh out of Lissa's favorite color, chartreuse.) Moreover, Sprague seems aware of his weaknesses: Joshua, who is mainly a device to get Greg and Lissa in the same room (no offense to Wisinewski), spends most of the show on a conveniently timed business trip.

So, to that excellent middle: Lissa is distrustful, whiny, and quite holier-than-thou, especially when it comes to Greg's checkered past as a jailed drug dealer (never mind that he also cared for his dying mother after Josh fled). However, when he shows up drunk in the middle of a blizzard, she can't just turn him away--nor, as we soon see, does she really want to. There's a bit of a bad girl in her, which she shows by raising Josh's forty of beer with her own petite glass of wine, and she's interested in the fact that he always says what's on his mind. Even though bold brothers and repressed wives have become the modern version of Chekhov's gun (if you put them on stage, they'd better go off), Sprague takes his time, building on the foundations of real curiosity, and through that, real audience interest. It doesn't hurt that his dialogue is also funny: the first time she slips and says "ass," Greg's there to congratulate her on "graduating to PG-13," and the looks from both the confident Gullberg and the innocent Woodiwiss are priceless--especially as their roles start to reverse.

The cross between the cliche and the original, and between the dead portions of plot and the crackling bits of a relationship, is what leaves this between being a good play and being a bad play. It's not aided by Elyse Handelman's cryptic set--an abstract series of cardboard shapes?--but it's not hurt by Brian Letchworth's crisp-but-loose direction. Ultimately, it's exactly what it says it is: Somewhere in Between.

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