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A CurtainUp Review
A Perfect Couple

When I met Isaac's family, first at a dinner in the City, later up here, when I met his dad and Coral, I thought, 'These are real New Yorkers. These people are educated, cultured, they read the New York Times and not just on Sundays. They attend lectures and concerts. Their children had music lessons and everyone went to Good Schools in the East and engaged in political debate over meals and listened to public radio.' It was different than anything I'd known.-.— Amy
A Perfect Couple
James Waterston and Dana Eskelson (Photo: Susan Shacter)
The DR2 Theater gives us A Perfect Couple, a not unrewarding play by Brooke Berman. It concerns 3 middle-aged friends—-Amy, Isaac, and Emma, and their young next-door neighbor, Josh. The foursome gathers at Isaac's country house one summer weekend trying to redefine themselves and their relationships. Not only is each forced to come to terms with love, marriage, and friendship, but they soon find out that secrets kept (or not kept) can have life-changing effects.

Berman last play, Hunting and Gathering (see link below), had a huge appeal to hip urbanites on-the-go. With this new work, the author moves in a decidedly different direction.

On the surface the story revolves around the engagement of Amy and Isaac, and their moving upstate to a country house. However, beneath this surface layer, a world of past and present relationships loom. The playwright suggests that maturity is being able to let go of self-defeating circumlocutions, and to move on to whatever is life-giving.

The one-act drama is a small but invaluable treasure trove. Berman, who uses both traditional and innovative techniques, here tips her hand toward monologues, spoken duets, and scenes working in a kind of "choral relief." The device of addressing the audience is most effective in the "wedding duet" early on in the play when both Amy and Emma speak in alternating turns. They earmark their pet peeves, secret fears, and honest-to-goodness hopes as bride-to-be and career woman. Speaking first, Amy delivers a kind of manifesto on avoiding financial pratfalls when planning "The Most Important Day of Your Life." Then, in striking counterpoint, the uninhibited Emma speaks about her fast-track career. She also reveals that she evades commitment by hanging out with men in their twenties, eschews Internet Dating and being "fixed-up." This entire duet is a sassy bit of grown womanhood, and though it defies surface logic, it successfully taps into the psyche of the two friends, illuminating their contrasting personalities and social stances. If there is a common motif to what's said, it's Amy and Emma's mutual belief in Love.

While A Perfect Couple may lack the bold originality of some of her former plays, but she continues to use storytelling as the basic unit of her playwriting. She nicely appropriates and digests relevant aspects of modern love and insinuates them into her characters. She also continues to write dialogue with effortless humor and verve. Furthermore, she manages the difficult feat of finding a language for modern relationships that is neither flatly naturalistic or unconvincingly poetic.

A Perfect Couple sprouts honesty, and resonates with contemporary issues with a mood that shuttles between drama and comedy. Although we're hardly given a fairytale ending, there are a lot of funny moments peppered into the dramatic mix. No, this is not a rib-tickling comedy, but the drama is never dry, and the comedy never cashes in on cheap jokes.

Director Maria Mileaf has directed the play with sensitivity. She nimbly avoids heavy emphases. Neil Patel knows how to make a contemporary set uncluttered. A mere silhouette of a country house serves as the backdrop to a large room filled with eclectic Ethan Allen-style furniture. And lighting designer Matthew Richards works out similar Spartan effects that include starlit scene that would do Van Gogh proud.

The title is deceptive as this is not about a perfect couple. There’s a soupcon of scandal that breezes into the story when Isaac and Josh, rummaging through paraphernalia in the attic, discover a diary that once belonged to Isaac’s stepmom. Dead for years, her "ghost" rises from the worn pages of the journal. Like a modern-day Pandora’s Box, it lights up things that were better left hidden.

"Your stepmother kept a journal," Amy pointedly says to Isaac."Did you know that? It’s amazing. It says all sorts of amazing things. She had a lot of opinions." The unlocked journal acts like poisoned fumes in the country house and everybody ends up reassessing who they are, and where they’re headed. No doubt the bonhomie of the summer weekend is suddenly and irretrievably lost. And we sadly watch as the bright emotional landscape of the play fades into a uniform gray.

The acting? No doubt the best performances were turned in by James Waterston (son of Sam Waterston of Law & Order fame) and Dana Eskelson. Waterston, as Isaac, gives a sound, straightforward performance as the groom-to-be. Dana Eskelson as Amy, infuses intelligence and brio into her role. Annie McNamara, at least at the early in the run performance I attended, overplayed her part as Emma, the savvy career woman and the couple's single best friend of Amy and Isaac.

Berman is a resourceful author, with a mint of modern phrases in her brain, and imagination to spare. She's had enough praise and encouragement for past productions to insure that we can expect some more really potent plays from her.

Links to plays by Berman reviewed at Curtainup:
Hunting and Gathering(2008)
The Triple Happiness (2004)
Smashing (2003)

A Perfect Couple
Written by Brooke Berman
Directed by Maria Mileaf
Cast: Dana Eskelson (Amy), Annie McNamara (Emma), James Waterston (Isaac), Elan Moss-Bachrach (Josh).
Sets: Neil Patel
Costumes: Jenny Mannis
Sound: Bart Fasbender
Lighting: Matthew Richards
Stage Manager: Cheryl D. Olszowka
WET at DR2 103 East 15th Street 212/ 239-6200
From 6/09/08; opening 6/19/08/closing 7/19/08.
Monday through Saturday @ 8pm.
Running Time: Approx. 70 minutes without an intermission
Reviewed by Deirdre Donovan based on June 19th press performance
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