Main Street Theater's This: Very Funny

The setup:

The comedic drama simply titled This - it is funny, very funny - brings together four close friends, each with their own sexual hunger, and one outsider - younger, handsome and with Gallic charm - and sensual fireworks might be expected. Playwright Melissa James Gibson, however, has other fish to fry, and gives us humor instead of romance, and drama instead of lust.

The execution:

In a number of episodic scenes, some brief, some not, we witness the unraveling of a marriage (or do we?), a gay pass rejected, a seduction without joy, a parlor game verging on cruelty, proof of a photographic memory, and confrontations which arise from impulse and meander without resolution. The four friends are clever without being intelligent, but their sparring is filled with verbal wit and unexpected surprise twists, so that, while we may not like them, we are entertained by them.

Gibson has an admirable way with a line, and a gift for creating situations, some more plausible than others. Sean Patrick Judge plays Alan, vain, self-centered, with a craving for alcohol, and captures him perfectly. I especially loved his incisive comments, as a warm, million-dollar smile is attempted by Carolyn Johnson, who plays Jane, a widowed poet with a child. Is there a law that female poets must be morose? (If so, I'm voting for repeal.) She has the figure of a fitness model, but looks consistently unhappy, which I gather is the playwright's intention, but this doesn't give the actor much of a range.

Happier is Daria James as Marrell, a new mother, who has more of the spark of life and is an accomplished cabaret singer to boot. Mark Roberts plays Tom, Marrell's blue-collar husband, and fails to overcome the problem of an underwritten part.

The role of the outsider is Jean-Pierre, a doctor without borders, played by Justin Doran, and when he enters it's as though a window had been opened on a musty attic, and we suddenly sense that life need not be shriveled with unmet needs and petty complaints. He alone is other-directed, not self-centered, and the wily playwright uses this to shape a most satisfactory ending. Doran is a brilliant actor who inhabits the part and enhances every scene he's in.

The verdict:

Numerous set changes are handled briskly, and the direction by Steve Garfinkel keeps things moving apace. Main Street Theatre has done well to present this highly original work by an award-winning playwright, and the verbal humor alone is well-worth a visit.

The show runs through April 24 at Main Street Theatre, 2540 Times Blvd. For tickets, call 713-524-6706.

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Jim Tommaney