David Ross, Kasey Mahaffy, LeRoy McClain and Annie Purcell in Partners.
By Dorothy Fortenberry
Directed by Lila Neugebauer
Review by Keith Waits
Entire contents copyright © 2014 by Keith Waits. All rights reserved.
There are but four characters in Partners, but the play makes the most of the shifting dynamics among them. The opening scene introduces one married couple, Clare (Annie Purcell) and Paul (David Ross), hosting her best friend Ezra (Kasey Mahaffey) and his boyfriend Brady (LeRoy McClain) for dinner in their Brooklyn apartment. The usual establishing business is accomplished amidst a great deal of smartly played humor that illuminates character rather than simply being a series of quips and unnatural one-liners. As funny as it is, it never feels anything but real.
Not unexpectedly, there are complications. Clare is pushing, perhaps a bit too hard, for Ezra and Brady to marry now that it has become legal in New York, citing the happiness she shares in her wedded bliss with Paul, while Ezra is pushing equally hard for Clare to do her part in their business partnership. Clare is a wonderful cook and Ezra’s entrepreneurial mission, which he pursues with zeal, is to open a food truck with her. The hesitation that exists concerning both ideas is what drives the plot, and before the story finishes, all the characters have shifted in their views in important ways.
That makes Partners a textbook dramatic structure, satisfyingly resolved in a tightly written scenario that feels almost old-fashioned for an entry in the Humana Festival. There is no new ground being broken here, although the details of the character’s interactions are all very timely: besides marriage equality, health insurance, or the lack of it, plays a part in the action, perhaps dating the play for future productions, and there is nothing fancy or post-modern in the writing. It is instead a refreshingly direct reading of the concerns weighing on the minds of the current generation of young adults. The sturdy attention to a careful build of relationships and shifting human dynamics, expressed through smart, economical dialogue, is always a welcome thing, and it feels okay to forego experimentation when the play is so well crafted in such classic fashion.
The playing also engages with confidence. Kasey Mahaffy is a delightful Ezra, and does not squander the gift of the snappiest dialogue, while Annie Purcell dances on the edge of unlikability with Clare, exploring her insecurities with conviction and empathy that are finally wins our sympathy. David Ross lays back in his characterization of Paul, stealthily waiting to deliver the goods when it counts, and LeRoy McClain is a subtle and intelligent Brady.
When it gets down to the nitty gritty, the play gives us beautifully observed moments for each of the three partnerships that investigate relationships in a manner that is easily identifiable. We can recognize these people in our own lives, even with the perfectly timed comic dialogue, and, in the end, Partners leaves us with a larger point of view that puts its characters in perspective and allows the audience to feel resolution.
Part of the 38th Annual Humana Festival of New American Plays
February 26-April 6, 2014
Actors Theatre of Louisville
315 East Main Street
Louisville, KY 40202