One of the undoubted benefits of online theatre going has been to discover some of the local and regional venues and companies that exist in this country and way beyond, especially now that travel options are so limited. This can also lead you to actors you would never otherwise see, directors whose work would otherwise pass you by and writers who would otherwise remain anonymous. One such is American Sean Grennan whose name popped up randomly while I was doing some research on something else; I decided to investigate simply out of curiosity. He’s an actor as well as playwright and has written a number of plays popular with regional companies in the USA such as his comedy Couples which has received a number of online productions. There are two versions of the play on You Tube and so it was a matter of literally tossing a coin to see which I should watch. I did briefly consider the idea of watching half of each but like Boris Johnson’s latest screeching U turn, decided that wouldn’t be fair to anybody so sorry to LAMB Theatre of Sioux City, Iowa – maybe next time.
The production I settled for comes from Centre Stage of Greenville, South Carolina – a place I happen to have actually visited during a road trip to the Blue Ridge Mountains (and no, I wasn’t on the trail of the lonesome pine). As the show was developed and streamed online, that’s not particularly relevant but I know how my readers love a bit of connectivity. And that’s more than can be said for the characters that inhabit the world of the play. This gives us three estranged couples attending online group theory with a relationship counsellor struggling to get them to observe etiquette as they bicker and point score their way through the meeting. Nevin is having a mid-life crisis and Barbara doesn’t appreciate it; Faith and Sally are struggling with the business of parenting and sharing a workload; Cynthia seems totally in denial as to what Thomas is really getting up to with Tiffany. Dr Mercer definitely has her work cut out.
The situations are somewhat formulaic, but the sparky playing of the actors injects some life into proceedings. The two meetings we are shown are a month apart and the second rings the changes by showing us the various transformations the characters have undergone. While none of these is a particular surprise it does give the cast new situations to play off. So, for instance, Nevin and Barbara effectively trade outlooks so that he moves from middle aged waster to committed worker and she goes from uptight nagging to laid back nonchalance. Cynthia seems to have undergone an epiphany and starts calling the shots as far as her relationship with Thomas goes; Faith and Sally reach a new level of understanding. This is an ensemble piece which gives each character/actor their moment in the spotlight though I didn’t feel particularly empathetic towards any of them and more than once found myself wondering why they were bothering – the characters that is, not the actors!
This is a largely enjoyable show though not without its flaws. Characterisation tends to be broad and probably needed to be toned down for a screen version which is less forgiving of “acting”. The production is staged in the now easily recognisable Zoom box configuration although when a character has a long speech the camera tends to home in on them; this is a wise decision as it introduces a note of variety. There are inevitable sound delays which onstage probably wouldn’t be tolerated but which I’ve almost learned to live with – after a whole year I guess you can get used to anything. I just wonder after what’s happened globally, how many actual couples will need the services of a real Doctor Mercer.
Couples is available on You Tube – click here
The play is also available as a separate production to that reviewed above – click here
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