...and the fear cracked open
nytheatre.com review by Richard Hinojosa
June 18, 2009
Fear of commitment can cripple a relationship. As a couple grows closer, they can sometimes feel their freedom and sense of individuality slipping away and that feeling can be terrifying. Usually they will react with extreme and uncharacteristic behavior that causes confusion, anger, and resentment in their partner. While this is not good for the couple, it can make for good theatre.
...and the fear cracked open focuses on Terri and Will, a young couple living in Minnesota in the '90s. Each of them has an as-of-yet unfulfilled artistic ambition—Will wants to be a painter and Terri a writer. For the time being they both hold "real" jobs, Terri writes the descriptions you see on the backs of videos and Will, who is less motivated than Terri, hops from coffee shop to coffee shop. They meet at a party, finding that they both have a need to get away from other people at parties. As their relationship grows they begin to discover that the reality of growing up and becoming a responsible adult couple is too much to handle and they struggle to hold on to their failing ambitions and self-images. They can't even say "I love you" to one another and have to use an alternate and much more innocuous phrase. In the end, this point becomes the most genuine moment in the entire play.
Playwrights Lynn Berg and Audrey Crabtree tell their story in short scenes that depict the gradual rise and fall of the relationship. The dialogue is sometimes funny but overall I found it to be very much like what you may find on a network TV show, that is, I found it be tame, contrived, and often cliché. One of the first clues of this is at the beginning when they meet at a party where they are trying to avoid other people.
What is interesting about this play are the multimedia and surreal elements, which provide an expressionistic perspective on what is mostly a naturalistic play. Berg and Crabtree use film to express the inner thoughts of Will and Terri and masks to hide their real feelings. The film (courtesy of Andy Ritchie and Jonathan Kaplan) is one of the funnier parts of the show and is very well done. The masks are stark and unpainted and useful in hiding their true feelings but they are only used in one short scene. Berg operates a puppet (designed by Kate Brehm) that is Terri's mother and he does so very well, but once again this is the only puppet in the show and the scene is relatively short. Berg also plays Fear Bag, a person dressed in a costume made of white nylon bags, who represents Will's deepest fears. Fear Bag appears a predictable three times. There is also a musical number, with superb original music composed and performed live by Sarah Engelke, in which Will and Terri dance and sing an adorable tune, but once again this convention is only used once.
Becky Byers and Gavin Starr Kendall play Terri and Will, respectively. Their performances are strong and they both do a good job portraying the roller coaster of emotions the couple feels. Still, and this may be the responsibility of the director (Crabtree), they play the short scenes for the whole story as opposed to playing them moment for moment and this has the effect of whitewashing their passions.
Most of this play consists of naturalistic, dramatic dialogue between Will and Terri and while I found the multimedia elements to be the most appealing they are too few and far between to pull the play out of the realm of a predictable romantic comedy and for me that has the opposite effect of an antidepressant.