Reviewed by Cindy Pierre
What originally appears to be a two's company, sixteen's a crowd situation on the Jewel Box Theater's intimate stage actually turns out to be a clever director and stage manager's choice. The large ensemble for Rich Orloff's plays in Couples is ushered into our view all at once as Disneyland patrons to partake in Matterhorn, the first short piece of the show. What could have been a cacophony of voices pans out to be a soft sell of the couples as entertainers as well as partners. In essence, you will remember them when you see them again, and this strategy is particularly effective since each couple's stage time is limited to 10-20 minutes.
Richard Mover and Wende O'Reilly are loudmouths Jerry and Arleen, a disgruntled married couple resolving to settle in their mutual hatred of each other in Matterhorn. With great diction and presence, Mover and O'Reilly proceed to turn what could have been a gooey love story on its ear, and Orloff's tongue-in-cheek dialogue dances well off of their loud and obnoxious tongues.
Directors Philip Emeott, David Gautschy and Paula D'Alessandris take turns with the often dense, sometimes bizarre material with Emeott receiving the choice gems and eliciting the most brazen performances (Matterhorn and Lion Tamer).
In Lion Tamer, the boldest and most memorable piece, a man gets a sexy and scenic real estate tour. Christine Verleney and Justin R.G. Holcomb (a Woman and a Man) smolder in their carnal banter, but their unique circumstances would be hard to swallow were it not for the commitment that these comic heavyweights make to be playful.
The remainder of the show's themes include lust vs. yearning, professor-student relations, bitter-bitter memories, a happy anniversary, a shy woman's inner turmoil and serious one-night stands. There are few surprises and no common thread but for the two-character trend (Invisible Woman's male character is arguably expendable). Some of the plays are far too condensed (Heart of the Fire and Afternoon Sun) and seem to be too much of a charge both emotionally (Ken Glickfield struggles in Class Dismissed) and practically (Lena Armstrong, Marie-Pierre Beausejour and L.B. Williams all stumble on lines of dialogue as Rosemary in Afternoon Sun, Julie in Heart of the Fire, and Elliot in O Happy Day, respectively).
Couples is a whirlwind of expression, demonstrating a versatile and prolific Rich Orloff. And if you are a theatregoer who prefers your theatre smorgasbord-style, this show may just leave you sated.
Closes May 19th. Workshop's Jewel Box Theater 4th Floor312 West 36th Street(between 8th & 9th Avenues)New York, NY 10018 $15. Students with ID: $13For tickets call: 212-695-4173, extension 4