Sunday, June 29, 2008

Nearly Perfect

A Perfect Couple
By Brooke Berman
Directed by Maria Mileaf
Starring Dana Eskelson, Annie McNamara, Elan Moss-Bachrach, James Waterston

DR2 Theater
Performances June 9—July 19, 2008

Eskelson and Waterston in A Perfect Couple (photo: Richard Mitchell)
With a sure hand and a light touch, Brooke Berman’s A Perfect Couple studies the unexpected travails of Amy and Isaac, two fortysomethings who are engaged to be married. Unlike Berman’s Hunting and Gathering, which suffered from terminal cutesiness, A Perfect Couple is wise and generous to its characters.

Amy and Isaac are cleaning out his family’s upstate house in anticipation of their wedding. Visiting them is Emma, Amy’s best friend since college and also a good pal of Isaac’s. Rounding out the quartet is Josh, a just-graduated college student who lives next door with his parents. A likeable ne’er-do-well, Josh hangs around while helping Isaac with odd jobs.

One day, while looking through a box of Isaac’s stepmother’s things, Amy comes across a journal and begins reading it. She discovers that Isaac and Emma once came up to the house one weekend several years ago, and his stepmom wrote that they looked like a couple in love but didn’t realize it yet. Needless to say, Amy is infuriated by this, and she confronts both Isaac and Emma about what really happened that weekend. They tell her that it was all platonic and that nothing happened -- Isaac notes that they even slept in separate beds -- but Amy refuses to accept their explanations. Simply put, she has lost trust in them because they never told her about their weekend together, which occurred while she was out of town.

From this simple set-up, Berman spins varied riffs on the age-old question, “Is he/she right for me?” by allowing her characters many opportunities to explain -- or, conversely, hang -- themselves. In a mere 80 minutes, she explores the secrets of the human heart with greater assurance and depth than other playwrights do in twice the time.

The actors, under Maria Mileaf’s poised direction, do wonders in finding their characters’ emotional centers, even elevating one of Berman’s rare clich├ęd devices: the characters' soliloquies, which even Neil LaBute handled better in reasons to be pretty. Elan Moss-Bachrach is a likeable Josh, James Waterston a laid-back, bemused Isaac (he often replies “I don’t understand” to any straightforward statement), and Annie McNamara a tough-shelled but tender-hearted Emma.

Dana Eskelson’s winning stage presence allows us to continue liking Amy even after she overreacts to that long-ago weekend. Her initial anger gives way to resignation in a finale that’s genuinely touching in its ambiguity and is a perfect ending to Berman’s beautifully penned play.

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