Thursday, April 10, 2014

Money (that's what I want)

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L-R: LeRoy McClain, Annie Purcell, David Ross, Kasey Mahaffy
Photo:Bill Brymer
Who: Actors Theatre of Louisville
What: Partners by Dorothy Fortenberry
When: February 26 – April 6, 2014
Where: 38th Humana Festival of New American Plays

Clare (Annie Purcell) is an aspiring chef married to Paul (David Ross), an IT manager for a New York City law firm. She loves trying out new recipes on her best friend Ezra (Kasey Mahaffy) and his boyfriend Brady (LeRoy McClain), who teaches "at risk" kids.  Ezra wants to start a Tex-Mex food truck business with Clare. She, in turn, wants him to marry Brady.  When Clare gets an unexpected financial windfall as a result of a long-forgotten class-action lawsuit, She, Paul, and Ezra find themselves faced with some tricky choices.

That should be the set-up for a lively comedy examining the difficulties in trying to mix business, love, and friendship.  And, in fact, Dorothy Fortenberry's script bristles with funny lines.  In "Partners," just about everybody is a joker.  Indeed, that's the problem: the humor in "Partners" comes mostly in the form of Neil Simon-esque jokes.  It doesn't, unfortunately, come from well-developed characters in credible situations.

The biggest problem with "Partners" is the central character of Clare.  She's self-centered, devoid of insight, and has an unerring knack for turning silk purses into sow's ears.  Worse yet, she's passive aggressive with a vengeance.  She allows Ezra, for example, to spend hours of his own time developing a business plan for a project that she apparently doesn't want to undertake.  Rather than simply say she's not interested, she produces a litany of excuses for why she never makes a meeting on time or meets a deadline.

Husband Paul doesn't get much better treatment.  Her cooking is too spicy for his stomach, but she makes no real effort to change her recipes.  She hides her financial good fortune from him and then, while he's making plans to use it in ways that will benefit both of them, she gives most of it away to a marriage equality organization.  Why either he or Ezra have any affection for the tiresome Clare is frankly hard to fathom.

Scenes between Ezra and Brady—both well-drawn and sympathetic characters—were more interesting.  I found their relationship was more credible than Clare and Paul's.  The scene in which Brady proposes marriage (but not, alas, monogamy) to Ezra was touching and true.

At only 65 minutes, "Partners" is hardly a long play.  But, despite strong performances from the cast, it felt like one, largely because Clare wore out her welcome about halfway through.  Lila Neugebauer's smart direction made the best of this shallow script, greatly assisted by Daniel Zimmerman's realistic sets, Paul Toben's lights, and Lindsay Jones's original music and sound.  But you know you're in trouble when a fast scene change gets as much applause as your curtain call.

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