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On Theater: 'Love' conquers all — except pacing

January 20, 2014|By Tom Titus
  • Michael Weston and Aya Cash in South Coast Repertory's 2014 world premiere production of "Trudy and Max in Love" by Zoe Kazan.
Michael Weston and Aya Cash in South Coast Repertory's… (Debora Robinson )

Billy Crystal probably said it best in "When Harry Met Sally...": "Men and women can't be friends because the sex part always gets in the way."

Trudy and Max certainly try to be friends, and they maintain that platonic bond right up until the, ah, climax of the first act of Zoe Kazan's new play "Trudy and Max in Love," now in its world premiere at South Coast Repertory.

From then on, the relationship encounters problems, not the least of which being the fact that Trudy is happily married and has been for six years. However, her hubby is out of town a lot, so when she strikes up a close friendship with a fellow writer, well, what would you expect?

Kazan (the granddaughter of famed director Elia Kazan) is an accomplished movie actress ("Ruby Sparks") who shows tremendous skill as a playwright, worming her way through and around the maelstrom of human emotions. She may take her own sweet time to accomplish this task, but literary conservatism should come eventually.

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Her title characters thrust and parry their emotions as Trudy attempts to balance her genuine love for her husband (who's never seen onstage) and her new lover, who shares her passion for literary creativity. It's a tightrope-walking adventure that, in most instances, works quite well under the sensitive direction of Lila Neugebauer.

What hinders the play's progress, though only moderately, are scenes — mostly involving the two supernumeraries in the cast — that veer from the situation at hand, as well as the extended moments of silently strained tension between the two main characters. With some judicious pruning, Kazan would have a gem with a fine cutting edge on her hands.

Most impressive in the SCR production is Aya Cash's splendid performance as Trudy, who wrestles with her conscience before choosing to follow her heart into uncharted waters. Cash is Kazan's onstage voice in the dramatic comedy, and her fits of hesitation, followed by bursts of romantic zeal, are both effective and credible.

Michael Weston as Max, 11 years her senior (though he doesn't appear so, hence a light beard to age him?), plays a curious character, a nice-looking chap who managed to maintain his virginity through high school and college. Now approaching 40, he's still unwed, though he dates models and exudes masculinity.

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