Live theater, unsolicited commentary. From Detroit to Lansing.


The Purple Rose Theatre Company continues its twentieth-anniversary season with a third world premiere, by resident artist Carey Crim. Her Some Couples May…, directed by Guy Sanville, dives into the private lives of a married couple to unearth a story that in real life is often kept under wraps: their struggle with infertility. The result is a distinctive, emotional tale that further unfolds into a study of knowledge sharing and privacy among families and acquaintances.

In their unnamed wealthy suburb of Detroit, Emily (Rhiannon Ragland) and David (Bill Simmons) are ready to have a child. At the play’s start, they’ve already been trying for months, with nothing but disappointment to show for it. The main thrust of the story bounces across major expected events over the next several months of their lives: one grows fanatical about conception advice found on the Internet, the all-consuming process of in vitro fertilization threatens to overwhelm the relationship, the couple doesn’t see eye to eye about medically assisted pregnancy versus other avenues. Most scenes have comic overtones and many are quite warm; the playwright avoids pitfalls like outright sniping and broad Mars/Venus stereotypes, and the central duo has a believable compatibility that encourages the viewer to root for them. Simmons’s David is a loyal and supportive partner, wanting to take this next step for both his wife and himself, yet mindful of the dangers of pinning all their hopes on one specific dream. But the center of the play rests in Emily, who takes each loss the hardest even as she grows, and Ragland gives the character a fullness that’s needed to keep this story fresh —she’s not a one-dimensional baby fiend per se, but when she succumbs to that internal pressure, it becomes a part of her discovery.

Crim enhances and enriches Emily and David’s world with peripheral characters and storylines that compellingly examine public versus private spheres. The couple is reluctant to discuss their attempts to conceive even with David’s immediate family — dreamer brother Henry (Alex Leydenfrost) and fertile sister-in-law Faye (Michelle Mountain), unfiltered mom Lois (Jan Radcliff) and dad of few words Bernie (Jim Porterfield). The family is close but stops short at oversharing, and their scenes add necessary context and stress that demonstrate Emily’s perceived isolation within her own all-encompassing feelings. Leydenfrost and Mountain turn in typically good work, but Radcliffe’s superb take on the inappropriate mother hits everything from passive-aggressive pushiness to irreversible casual racism, and Porterfield’s pithy gruffness is golden. A further dimension opens up when David meets Isabel (Aphrodite Nikolovski), the dominatrix who’s moved into the apartment above his pediatric practice; what he freely reveals to this stranger deepens the perspective on how and why we share things about ourselves. Nikolovski plays this therapist of a sort as competent to the point of being disarming, pushing to surpass the character’s major hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold streak. Their interactions take an unexpected turn when Isabel attempts to connect with beleaguered David, but it’s not clear where Crim is headed until a climactic scene of such raw and dangerous beauty, I forgot the other actors were still on stage.

Tasked with portraying a handful of insurmountably varied locations and a few vignettes outside of time and space, Vincent Mountain’s sparse, open set never quite stops being a living room, but Dana White’s cheeky lighting design and Danna Segrest’s scene-setting properties help to clarify. Quintessa Gallinat’s sound design relies on the soulful voices of guitar-accompanied women, reinforcing the feminine core of the journey. Costume design by Christianne Myers isn’t shy about resorting to cliché, but in every case it’s warranted and doesn’t deter from the character work.

In all, the specificity of the prevailing subject matter, and Crim’s extremely personal and intimate approach, makes for an experience that’s better in sympathy than in empathy — Emily’s journey will resonate best with viewers who have experienced frustrating attempts at conception or been very close to someone who has, who recognize Ragland’s excitement and longing and grief as approximating their own. Viewers who don’t fall into that category (including this reviewer) are likely to connect with the relationships and performances, but as observers rather than fellow travelers, which makes for a somewhat more remote experience. Still, even for this mere empathizer, Some Couples May… had much to offer, and the searing emotional intensity of the unexpected climactic scenes went a long way to make up any potential distance. This is a production whose primary subject matter will hit home with a select demographic and whose accompanying themes and relationships hold wider appeal.


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