Sunday, February 9, 2003

'Infinite Ache' crams lifetime into shortened attention span

By Jackie Demaline
The Cincinnati Enquirer

A Gen Y spin through the domestic landscape of century-old charmer The Four-poster makes for an entertaining date night in An Infinite Ache, which is getting its regional premiere at Playhouse in the Park.

The action is set around the bed that's been in Charles' (Mark Alhadeff) family for generations. It starts as the centerpiece of an otherwise sterile, one-room, first apartment.

Following a date so bad that Hope (Eunice Wong) won't even admit it was a date, Hope's and Charles' journey together begins at a pace agreeable to the attention span-challenged.

Early on, the action is laid out when Charles, inept but interested in getting on with the courtship, says to the reluctant Hope, "Don't you wish you could skip all this and get to the part when we're old and sitting on a porch and watching our grandchildren playing on a swing?"

In 85 minutes (no intermission) they blast through sleeping over, proposal, newlywed jitters, expectant parenthood, parenthood, career changes, therapy, empty nesting, infidelity, aging. And these are not all the stops along the way.

Playwright David Schulner addresses lots of issues for our times, from the way distractions overwhelm us to culture-clash. Charles is Jewish; Hope is Asian-American. It eventually starts to matter as they grope for larger identity.

The characters don't age - there's no time and that's not the point.

Schulner's script is filled with energy, as is the production directed by Greg Leaming. Schulner crams in an overflow of turns in the relationship, not all of which work in such quick shortcuts and brief snapshots (at least not for me, but I'm over 40).

But he has a delightful way of noting the passage of time and place (at one point with the help of a whimsical magic suitcase). He has a good ear, too.

Charles and Hope talk like real people, immature and self-involved, and unpleasant and self-protective when life starts to prick too hard.

Infinite Ache is full of nice observations, sometimes funny, sometimes wry, sometimes poignant and bittersweet. Like I said, it makes for good date night entertainment.

The actors are adept, Alhadeff primarily as an over-eager doof, and Wong for the most part as a spoiled brat.

Script, production and performers are all so amiable that you're willing to go with it even through Schulner's many moments of patently unbelievable high drama (acted with conviction), eyebrow-raising emotional turns (as they flip-flop about who loves who) and some big questions about chronology as the show rolls toward Charles' and Hope's later years.

An Infinite Ache, through March 9, Playhouse in the Park Shelterhouse, 421-3888.


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