Intriguing title. Lifelike set illustrates a bar’s back room. Good start. Male conversation about ejaculation, yardage, hitting the target, prostate. Not my cup of tea. This is what we get when longtime best friends Jim (Neil Holland) and Bill (Chaz Reuben) meet up in the empty back room of a familiar bar. They haven’t seen each other for a while because married Bill hasn’t returned bachelor Jim’s phone calls. If you are over forty, you will feel old hearing how they see themselves becoming over the hill. At thirty-eight, Jim worries about diminishing sexual performance.
Jim makes self-composting toilets. Bill designs websites. He has married problems. His wife doesn’t want a kid. Her excuse is that she is burnt out from her job. Jim hasn’t found a suitable mate, so he lives in the mind of a college boy. You can stop calling me “dude”, Bill tells him. Only yesterday, a fifty-one year old woman gave Jim a hand job on the bus. It was awesome and creative, he brags. He got laid in Cincinnati by a twenty year old student he met when he guest lectured on green waste management, gigs he finds on shit.com. Playwright Stephen Belber infuses his dialogue with humor.
Behind all this catching up, Jim feels deeply hurt by his old friend. Not only has Bill been avoiding him, but Bill never called his father with condolences after his mother died. Frankly, I wasn’t terribly interested in this small talk. We learn later that this is Mr. Belber’s set-up, for what you see isn’t what you are going to get. It is still a long way to the pay-off.
Joe (Michael Puzzo) enters. With no consideration, this obnoxious stranger interrupts the friends’ reunion. He puts on the juke box. He rocks out. He brings them pigs-in-blankets. He sandwiches himself between their chairs, asking nosy questions like “Are you pro-abortion?” Bill is beyond annoyed. Joe insinuates that Bill’s wife is messing around. The remark pulls a true confession out of Jim. Jim and Bill’s wife Jess once kissed, long ago before she dated Bill. By the time Jess (Danelle Eliav) arrives to pick up Bill, the atmosphere is tense and awkward. I will stop with plot details because I won’t spoil the twists and turns to come.
Here was this reviewer’s dilemma. The hidden story of this play made me uncomfortable. There are immoral motives driving Jim’s behavior. My four-star rating is a tribute to the very fine work accomplished by director Shira-Lee Shalit and her cast. The master acting teachers talk about relaxation and listening as keys to great acting. This team reaches the golden goal post of “living on stage” in this production. They are relaxed and listen to each other, without cue to cue talk too often seen in today’s theater. Mr. Belber has spun a clever web of plot twists that you won’t see coming. I like it when I can’t guess whodunnit.
WITH: Neil Holland (Jim), Chaz Reuben (Bill), Michael Puzzo (Joe), Danelle Eliav (Jess).
By Stephen Belber; directed by Shira-Lee Shalit; sets and lighting by Nick Francone; sound by Daniel Spitaliere; costumes by Nancy Leary; technical director, Chimmy Ann Gunn; assistant stage manager/prop master, Alyssa Meyers; assistant to the director, Max R.A. Fedore; press rep, Ron Lasko/Spin Cycle; graphic designer, David Blais. Presented by Knife Edge Productions, Executive Producer Neil Holland, Associate Producers Don DiPaolo and Chaz Reuben. At TBG Arts Center, 312 West 36th Street, between 8th and 9th Avenues. For tickets, go to https://web.ovationtix.com or call (212) 352-3101. Through September 20. Running time: 90 minutes with no intermission.