The Seattle Times

Friday, August 17, 2007 - Page updated at 02:02 AM


"Serenading Louie's" cast is committed, but the play breaks up


"Serenading Louie."

Special to The Seattle Tim es


American theater is replete with examples of troubled marriages. 


Think of Edward Albee's George and Martha, or Tennessee Williams' volatile Brick and Maggie. Noted playwright Lanford Wilson's "Serenading Louie," presented by Downstage Left Theatre, offers not one but two troubled couples.

The clue to what this play is about comes before it begins, when the Yale Whiffenpoof Song resonates through the theater, repeating the lyrics, "We're poor little lambs who have lost our way ... " The play's two couples are indeed lost. Former college friends, they now live in one of Chicago's tony North Shore suburbs. Despite material wealth, their lives are marred by disconnectedness, excessive drinking, adultery and sexual longing.

These are people who talk around each other — hiding their secrets, revealing their lack of concern. One member of each couple has lost interest in the marriage.

This isn't one of Wilson's best works. Besides being dated (it was written in 1970), its melodramatic ending is simply too histrionic. But the acting makes the evening worthwhile. Chad Evans and Lindsay Evans as Alex and Gabby play a couple — she longs for closeness, and he wants to get away. Erika Godwin, who plays Mary, and Tyler Rhoades, as Carl, portray a marriage that is mired in lies and disappointments.

Their anomie seems more symptomatic of the culture of the '70s than it does of today's society, when divorce is more easily attained. But certainly today's audiences can relate to lines like, "I keep feeling my real life will begin any day now." Or, "It's all too complex."

All four actors give nuanced performances. They make their characters likable despite their deceptions and weaknesses. The pain is palpable when callousness confronts neediness. And throughout, even as their characters are physically together, they are emotionally removed.

Both couples are real-life partners. They founded the company Downstage Left just this year and obviously chose this, its first performance, to highlight their talents.

It does that, especially with the smart direction of Charles Waxberg, who has staged the play so that the same set is used for both the couple's homes. This requires a careful patterning of the cast's entrances and exits. At times, he even has both couples on stage simultaneously in their separate houses, and makes it work.

If this production is indicative of what this theater company can do, it's one to watch out for.

Nancy Worssam: