When you first see the stage at DCP Theatre’s production of James Prideaux’s MIXED COUPLES, you know that you are in for an uncomfortable night. Set Designer Cameron Purdy puts you in an aluminum shack, not much bigger than a small public restroom. He cuts the proscenium stage deliberately in half in an effort to force you to feel what the characters on stage feel: TRAPPED. The year is 1927, you are at an airfield, not airport, in this shack with no “modern” amenities, serving as a waiting area for your flight. It is dirty, no refreshments, it’s an equipment room of sorts, you wait here, without an indoor bathroom, to take your delayed flight. Get the picture? Now enter four people who are waiting to take that delayed flight. They must wait together in this cramped “facility”. Two married couples. Two married couples who by sheer fate, had the other couple’s spouse as their first betrothed. OUCH!
Ok, a bit forced and “what are the odds”, but you as an audience member go with it. It soon develops into a four dimensional chess match with each character moving and counter-moving on stage, both in staging and verbiage. DCP first time Director Geoff Yaroschak does a wonderful job in controlling this web. His blocking was excellent; it had to be in order to hold my attention in this play which can only be described as a dark comedy or better, a “dramedy”. Yaroschak had to have deliberate movement; otherwise the characters would just sit or stand in this shack and do nothing. It’s all about the words said.
Alden (Raymond Thompson) and Elberta (Linda Friday) are a married couple from New Jersey flying to Washington, DC. They have chartered a flight which they are going to share with another couple, Don (Bill Algeo) and Clarice (Nancy Server Thompson) who are making their way to Florida. Alden is a nerdy type, self absorbed in his writing and dull in appearance and character. Thompson plays the nerd with awkward ease. His wife, Elberta, is a nerd as well, but with the expression that Alden lacks. Friday does a great job delivering well timed facial looks to absurd comments that the audience loved. Those looks spoke volumes. Enter Don and Clarice who are polar opposites of the first couple. Don is a well heeled business type and Clarice is a “B” actress whose better days in the Ziegfeld Follies are behind her. Algeo gives Don a self confident and smooth appearance, with a hint of class and a touch of ego. Nancy Thompson, (who happens to be Raymond’s real life wife), shows Clarice’s sexpot side; complete with dramatic gestures and flirtatious charm. Nancy commands the stage as would any actress in (desperate) need of the spotlight. It is a compliment to Nancy as she is the “Queen” in this chess match, with Algeo being the steadfast, but mobile “Rook”. Raymond Thompson’s Alden being the quirky “Knight” and Friday’s Elberta, being the “King”. Did I just give away the plot?
Twenty five years earlier; Don was married to Elberta and Alden married to Clarice. Without it being stated early on, you, as the audience, are aware of something like this from the start. You suspect it, but it is not confirmed until much later in the show. Cheryl B, from King of Prussia, said that she had to follow the story line with much attention. Cheryl said it was the classic, “Who did what to whom”. I agreed. The author kept us constantly on edge as more and more was revealed to us as the play went on. Unfortunately, by the middle of the second of two acts, I was tired of it and wanted it to end. I knew how it should end in my head and wanted to see if it actually did so. This was not the fault of the well directed show, or the actors. This criticism is that the play talked and talked and talked. It could have been edited by the author to exclude ten minutes or more of dialogue in the second act and we as the audience would not have missed anything.
The four main actors, plus several walk-on appearances by Howard Algeo playing the pilot of the delayed aircraft, did a marvelous job keeping the verbal banter constant. Sly allegations and accusations were bandied about from all characters at each other; no one escaped anyone’s charm or spit. All four main characters were interesting and unique. These characters, however, would have been boring as Hell had it not been for the marvelous performances turned in by Algeo, Friday, and the married Thompsons. “Marry” these four performances with the fine direction of Yaroschak, and DCP has an excellent show to stage for the next three weekends. It was an uncomfortable play to watch but that was the idea.
Book by James Prideaux
Directed by Geoff Yaroschak
September 10 – 26, 2010
795 Ridge Road