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Keegan Theatre Things You Shouldn’t Say Past Midnight

By • May 19th, 2014 • Category: Reviews
Things You Shouldn’t Say Past Midnight
Keegan Theatre: (Info) (Web)
Church Street Theater, Washington DC
Through May 24th
1:25, without intermission
$35/$30 Students, Seniors
Reviewed May 12th, 2014

Some advertisements and reviews of past productions of Peter Ackerman’s 1999 comedy of post-coital misunderstanding, Things You Shouldn’t Say Past Midnight, currently playing at the Keegan Theatre, have described it as a “bedroom farce,” bringing to mind one of those contraptions with seven doors, disguises, mistaken identities, multiple quick entrances and exits, and cardboard characters, in which, despite scripts stuffed with coy sexual innuendo, no one actually winds up in bed with anyone. Michael Frayn sent up the genre brilliantly in Noises Off.

Fortunately, that description does not actually apply to Things You Shouldn’t Say Past Midnight. True, it does take place mostly in bedrooms — three of them, in fact — in which Ackerman’s quirky sextet of characters does get to enjoy a good deal of horizontal recreation. The ensemble cast delivers not only one well-conceived laugh line after another but also highly satisfying character development along the way. Each of the actors creates a vivid, individual portrait.

The play begins with Nancy (Caroline Wolfson), in the throes of passion, uttering an intentionally indistinct bit of ethnic inappropriateness (the sort of thing, notwithstanding the play’s title, that might well be problematic at any time of day). Her boyfriend of six months, Ben (Michael Innocenti, who also designed the set), an earnest Jewish grad student, can’t resist teasing out her exact words and cross-examining her as to what she intended or implied by them. This results in a spat that spins out of control when Ben notes that since one can never be fully sure of the truth of someone’s self-representation, it is possible — just hypothetically — that a seemingly straight man — himself, for example — might actually be gay. Ultimately, this sends Nancy, an immigrant from the relatively sheltered world of small town Oregon, fleeing into the wilds of the Big City at 3 a.m., where she seeks refuge at the apartment of her best friend, Grace (Allison Corke).

Grace, a free-spirited, and unsurprisingly unemployed, art history major, has just one thing in mind: sex with her latest hook-up (though they have hooked up for five nights in a row, a seemingly long winning streak for such an arrangement). She is turned on by the fact that Gene (Peter Finnegan) is an older, working-class guy who has never been to college and is yet well-established in his career, that of a hit man for some minor league mobsters. Ackerman has fun with the role reversal here, as Grace’s laser focus on simply getting it on in the sack contrasts with the fastidious, rather kindly, professional killer’s desire for a bit of conversation, perhaps augmented with a snuggle, along the way. Gene even wants to hear something about art history, which Grace testily obliges with a riff about how bad shoes can become art objects.

Grace rings up her friend Mark (Kevin Hasser), a gay psychotherapist who is also Gene’s younger brother, to advise Nancy on her worries about Ben’s sexual orientation, only to reach Mark as he is enjoying the bedtime company of his much older companion, Mr. Abramson (Timothy J. Lynch), a carpet merchant. This leads to the show’s primary set-piece, a verbal circus of a three-way call involving Grace, Gene, and Nancy in one bedroom, Mark and Mr. Abramson in another, and Ben in the third.

Each of the three pairs of actors creates a believable couple dynamic and all succeed in the key task of being funny by ensuring that their characters take themselves perfectly seriously. The actors and director Colin Smith keep the rapid-fire lines fluid and perfectly timed, never letting the comic momentum flag. The only point at which matters slow a bit is toward the end of the show, as Ackerman’s script has the characters perhaps too readily learning their lessons of acceptance and compromise, which Ackerman follows up with a brief coda as the three couples — after the lights have gone down — once more make good use of their beds.

Innocenti’s set is simplicity itself, as befits a show that began life off-Broadway: three bedrooms, spaced across the stage at slightly different height levels. Allen Sean Weeks’ lighting design provides the area lighting necessary for the transitions from one bedroom to another. Kelly Peacock’s costumes fit the time of night and the varying moods resident in three bedrooms, with the contrast between Gene’s conservative pajamas and Grace’s racier nightwear being especially fun.

A number of reviews of previous productions of Things You Shouldn’t Say Past Midnight in other cities criticized the play for being too facile, going for easy laughs in sitcom-like fashion. (Indeed, DirecTV has announced that, beginning this month, it is producing a 10-episode show based on the play.) It may possibly be that some other productions of the play simply were not as skillfully executed as Keegan’s. The present production is an overwhelmingly funny rendering of Ackerman’s script: I cannot remember such a constantly uproarious audience reaction since the last good production of Noises Off I saw. But there is something more not far under the surface of the laughs, as the comedy springs from the emotional distress produced when people exalt categories (e.g., Jewish/non-Jewish, gay/straight) above the individuality of others in their lives. Both in terms of its humor and the underlying emotions, the Keegan production far exceeds the impact one would expect from a sitcom.

The Cast

  • Nancy: Caroline Wolfson
  • Grace: Allison Corke
  • Ben: Michael Innocenti
  • Gene: Peter Finnegan
  • Mark: Kevin Hasser
  • Mr. Abramson: Timothy Hayes Lynch

The Production Team

  • Director: Colin Smith
  • Assistant Director: Brianna Letourneau
  • Scenic Design: Michael Innocenti/Colin Smith
  • Lighting Design: Allan Weeks
  • Costume Design: Kelly Peacock
  • Sound Design: Dan Deiter
  • Properties Designer and Set Dressing: Carol Hood Baker
  • Hair and Makeup Design: Craig Miller
  • Stage Manager: Megan Thrift

Disclaimer: Keegan Theatre provided two complimentary media tickets to ShowBizRadio for this review.

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has been an active participant in the Washington-area community theater scene since his arrival in town in 1975.

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