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A CurtainUp New Jersey Review
2 Across, Jerry Mayer's witty salute to crossword puzzle fans is directed by Evelyn Rudie and introduces Janet (Andrea McArdle) and Josh (Kip Gilman) on a lonely early morning BART airport shuttle from San Francisco to their home destinations. They pass the time with crossword puzzles.
For Janet, crosswords are important. She does them in ink and totes along a dictionary, thesaurus, atlas and various other resources to help her finish every puzzle perfectly, every day. She is a well-dressed, tightly wound psychologist wgi keeps her secrets close to the vest. Right now she quietly dabs away some tears, upset after just leaving her son at the airport. He quit high school to enlist in the Marines.
Josh, the only other passenger, happens to be just the opposite. He is free and easy, loquacious and currently unemployed. He's the type who does crossword puzzles in pencil, using the eraser freely and turning to the sports page when he is stumped or distracted. She is Cathollc, he is Jewish — and both are wearing wedding rings.
Restless with his puzzle, Josh starts to provoke Janet. As they bicker, Janet scoffs at his "loosey-goosey" attitude with saying, "Those who don't finish small things like crosswords don't finish big things either."
Over the 80-minute ride, the layers of their lives unravel and truths are revealed. They find they do have a few things in common, like less than satisfying marriages. Surprisingly, each finds something to admire and even need from the other. Not surprisingly, a tinge of attraction flickers between them.
Spending time with these two opposites provides a breezy light comedy with a dollop of romance, some laughs and a bit of substance. Mayer, a successful writer of television sitcoms ( M*A*S*H, The Mary Tyler Moore Show ) has the snappy language and rhythm of sitcom characters down pat. In the same vein, the characters show little depth in a play with no challenging conflicts. The ending is convenient, indicating that this camaraderie may continue on, but then again may not. It leaves the audience with a smidgen of hope.
Director Evelyn Rudie keeps a crisp light touch, emphasizing the characterizations and skillfully uses the confined space of the shuttle car. You may remember Rudie has some TV experience of her own, memorably playing the whimsical five-year-old Eloise in a '50's television's Playhouse 90 production. She keeps the focus on the one-liners and humor.
Kip Gilman is thoroughly believable as the likeably neurotic Josh. He has an easy comic flair as his character admits the many mishaps in his life. His go-with-the-flow attitude also reveals a warmth toward his straight-laced foil, going so far as to take a bold move to help her, which Janet does not first appreciate.
Playing Janet, Andrea McArdle ( Annie ), seems uncomfortable in her role. At the preview performance I attended she played her character with stiff distinction, her lines sounding delivered rather than felt. Since McArdle is talented and experienced she will hopefully ettle into a more believable Janet as the run continues.
Scott Heineman designed a catchy shuttle set. The lighting by Josh Iacovelli that suggests the pattern of a crossword puzzle.
After the curtain call, the two actors step out of character and McArdle turns to what she is best known for (no, it's not "Tomorrow"). She sings the lilting standard, "It Had to Be You," with Gilman (and some in the audience) joining in. In this feel-good moment, 2 Across proves a free and easy fit for the small off-Broadway St Luke's Theatre.