"Lips Together, Teeth Apart" A Theater Mirror Review

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entire contents copyright © 1996 The Theater Mirror & Larry Stark

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note: entire contents copyright © 1995 by Larry Stark

"Lips Together, Teeth Apart"

                        Written by Terrence McNally
                         Directed by Richard Carey

                    Chloe Haddock........Kerry McInnes
                    Sam Truman.............Steve Auger
                    John Haddock.....Matthew Bernstein
                    Sally Truman..........Kelly Lawman

                       Set Design by Paul Daigneault
                  Costume Design by Jeffrey Scott Burrows
                      Lighting Design by Shelly Sabel
                        Sound Design by David Lane
                         Stage Manager Bill Casper
                 Production Stage Manager Sharon Graziosa

                          SpeakEasy Stage Company
                            at THE LYRIC STAGE
                       140 Clarendon Street, BOSTON
                                till 4 May

What on earth would make two straight couples spend Fourth of July on the deck of a beachfront bungalow on Fire Island surrounded by "those people"? Well, one woman inherited the property from her brother (who died of AIDS), and her husband's sister and brother-in-law have been bosom friends for years. The pool's inviting, the weather's flawless --- it's idyllic, right? Well, another playwright once suggested that "Hell is other people", and these old friends have all known one another so long and so well that everything they do and say is an abrasive, wounding irritant.

Perhaps if they could talk honestly to each other about what really matters things might improve, but a long series of stop-motion interior monologs throughout Terrence McNally's three acts shows the audience that under the abrasive facade, things are much, much worse.

Kerry McInnes plays a determinedly pushy mom-figure hiding, in her children and roles in "little theater" musicals, from the fact that her husband has slept with her brother's wife. Matthew Bernstein is her cynically unfulfilled, eternally unsatisfied mate who will not reveal his terminal cancer.

Steve Auger plays a bluff, gruff contractor pushing his wife to try again after a miscarriage, yet secretly afraid he will fail as a parent. As this withdrawn, sensitive wife, Kelly Lawman shows her as much in guilty mourning for the brother she never guessed was gay, until too late, as she is in mourning for herself.

That's the scathingly self-aware subtext those interior monologs reveal, but Terrence McNally has thrown over all that a glitteringly witty surface dialog full of prickling innuendo and brittle social satire, the barbs in which would draw life's-blood if they were not so petty and personal. Everyone here is a recognizable posturing type, pompous and punctured by turns, embarrassingly like friends one knows --- until those monologs.

Obviously, this is a multi-levelled play that could be rehearsed for years without revealing all its subtleties and intricately linked innuendoes. Director Richard Carey didn't have years, and so this forceful, experienced cast has had to settle for surface simplicity and broad-brush hilarity punctuated by moments of self-aware honesty. Just as Paul Daigneault's real- furniture, real-hamburgers set emphasizes surface truth, this production scrapes down several layers into an inexhaustible text, and that's enough for now.

THE THEATER MIRROR, Boston's LIVE Theater Guide