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GayFest! opened its two-play repertory Saturday night at The Drake's flexible black box space, the Louis Bluver Theatre, with David L. Kimple's relationship drama MMF.
As the title implies, this 80-minute play concerns a three-person relationship: Dean (Matt McWilliams) and Michael (Terrell Green) share an apartment with Jane (Kyra Baker). As one might imagine, this triangle proves hard to maintain. There was a time, Dean says, "When the three of us matched pitch," but their harmony is gone.
Shifting through time
Kimple's script uses sudden flashbacks to tell their story: Dean and Michael were barely a couple when Jane came along and the three merged. Michael left, however, and Jane and Dean try to continue alone. When Michael finally returns, dirty laundry is aired, and they contemplate what can be salvaged.
Shamus Hunter McCarty's production — with Sara Outing's ethereally spacious set design, John Allerheiligen's sharp lighting, and Damien Figueras's subtle sound — navigates the sudden time shifts well, crafting more suspense than the situation provides. When Jane complains that she's "tired of this retrospection and regurgitation," I wanted to yell, "Me too!"
MMF often feels like we're listening to other people's relationship fights. In the play, as in actual eavesdropping, we're short on context and guiltily wonder who these people are and why we care. It's a script challenge that must be solved.
Another is the play's awkward ending, in which one of the three initiates yet another conversation with one or the other and the play just stops, rather than resolves. McCarty suddenly fades to black, mid-word and mid-motion. The opening night audience sat stunned for a moment, not realizing the play had ended until the actors emerged to bow. (Don't imagine the finale of The Sopranos, in which the what-just-happened blackout was a stylistic and thematic statement; this ending is just puzzling and off-putting.)
Just like people
Nevertheless, MMF is well-acted, briskly staged, and often fun. McCarty and his talented cast stay on the right side of conflict; this could easily turn into an ugly screamfest, but the characters maintain their humor and affection even while battling for their romantic lives. Baker especially overcomes what seems like shrillness and hysteria in Jane's torrent of words and earns our empathy. Michael's outward calm seems admirable, until we realize his aloofness has caused many problems. Dean is manic and mischievous, which makes him fun to hang with, but hard to live with.
All three characters have attractive qualities along with obvious flaws — just like people — and hit that familiar relationship cliff where "I love you" just isn't enough. We've all been there in our own ways, and that familiarity made me both pull away and, when their genuine heartache won me over, lean in.
What, When, Where
MMF. By David L. Kimple, Shamus Hunter McCarty directed. Through August 27, 2016 at the Louis Bluver Theatre at the Drake, 302 South Hicks St., Philadelphia. (215) 627-1088, quinceproductions.com.
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