It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a widowed man of a certain age, must be in want of a honey-drawled woman to penetrate his harmlessly cantankerous exterior. On the face of it, there is Kathleen Clark's Southern Comforts in a nutshell. Yet there's something more to the play, especially in this Tipping Point production directed by Joseph Albright: a real relationship.
Actors Thomas D. Mahard and Ruth Crawford are superbly cast; from the first meeting between Gus of New Jersey and Amanda of Tennessee, they have an instant rapport. Theirs never feels like an unlikely partnership — even as Gus grumbles about something or they find themselves in disagreement, it’s apparent that these aren’t two lonely people settling for each other’s companionship. Indeed, a scene at the end of the first act makes it clear how many more obstacles are in place for two seniors combining their filled-out lives than exist for young people just starting out together. Long-established preferences, deep-seated unwavering opinions, and especially a lifetime’s worth of possessions and furniture do not happily commingle; to willingly weather the strain, they must be in love.
Gus and Amanda’s carefully considered decision to move in together and marry is immediately followed by intermission, an affair practically deserving of a special section in the program. Complete with its own costumes (by Melanie Schuessler) and soundtrack (by Joel Klain), this intermission makes over Dennis G. Crawley’s set from sparsely appointed widower house to overfurnished married house in front of the audience’s eyes. Given just the right amount of fanfare and attention, this clever extension of the play had me giggling as I watched.
The second act concerns the couple’s life together, which is neither perfect in its ease nor painful in its difficulties. Few plot developments are shocking or unexpected, save one cutely quirky surprise, but it is enough to watch and enjoy Gus and Amanda work at being together and be rewarded by being in love. Albright, Crawford, and Mahard have cultivated an atmosphere where the script’s many laughs don’t defuse the tension; instead, these contrasting elements gamely coexist, allowing the disagreements to feel sufficiently real and important. Mahard especially has a gift for perfectly intoned asides that spark bursts of laughter through difficult scenes; Crawford is an elegantly forthright woman whose level-headedness makes her charmingly sympathetic. They are each worth rooting for individually, and together even more so.
With its occasional gag of changing out screens and storm windows, this script demands a lot from the set, and the production team definitely delivers. Crawley’s interior feels stupendously tall for the Tipping Point space, with a big staircase providing Albright great levels visible from the seating on all three sides. Klain’s sound as well as lighting by Ruth Nardecchia are at their best during an early thunderstorm, right down to the suggestion of rain on the window. In all, this sweet and touching play is a thoughtful departure from the often volatile and all-encompassing relationships of the young, and the performances of its lead actors entice the viewer to get invested in romance of a different kind, no less worthy of celebration.
Tags: Tipping Point