Sunday, February 7, 2010

Community servings

This is just a quick note about Half-Married, an unpretentious new comedy which closed last night at the Arsenal Center for the Arts, and which provided my first exposure to the F.U.D.G.E. Theatre Company (whose acronym stands for "Friends United to, um, Something Something Entertainment, I think). F.U.D.G.E. is a denizen of the second "fringe" of Boston theatre - they're a community-style group that, like Metro Stage and others, is edging into the more professional city scene.

This is an interesting development, and I don't share the prejudices of many critics regarding community theatre: it's often great. More than most community-fringe players, however, F.U.D.G.E. still seems very suburban, at least based on Half-Married, a wittily written but completely clich├ęd script by two Needham guys, Charles Antin and Ryan Cunningham. The comedy follows Soren and Stephanie, two generic, attractive middle-class white kids as they move in together and discover - or almost discover - that Stephanie might be pregnant. As they struggle over whether or not she should take a pregnancy test now or later (yeah, that's the whole conflict), their fun-but-dysfunctional married friends, John and Amanda, drop by to give them a taste of the commitment hell that awaits them if Stephanie does, indeed, have a bun in the oven.

But of course it's entirely up to Stephanie when she wants to take her pregnancy test, and the script instinctively steers clear of any questions so fraught as what Knocked Up called "smushsmortion." We quickly realize, however, that Antin and Cunningham are after nothing more than a little romance in which circumstances reveal that goofy Soren and pouty Stephanie do, actually, have enough love for each other to make a commitment should they be expecting. And the playwrights in fact nail this limited objective, and we say "Awww" just when we're supposed to. Curtain!

To be fair, they have also been pretty funny along the way, and the piece is good-natured and light on its feet. This is basically a mash-up of whitebread sitcoms like Friends and Seinfeld, and it reminded me a lot of what my parents' generation used to call "dinner theatre" - a two-couple sex comedy on a single set. When you're chuckling on a steady basis, however, you don't really mind. The ball-busting Amanda (the crackling Jamianne Devlin) may be a stereotype, but she gets all the best lines - and they are, indeed, hilarious, while the dude-speak camaraderie of Soren and John is very accurately observed ( so accurately that we wonder if they shouldn't just be called "Charles" and "Ryan"). The cast is clearly more versed in stand-up than the Method, but they get the job done, and director Joe DeMita kept things moving, and amusing; only the lovely Danielle Sosnowski seemed a little stiff, but she certainly has potential.

I think it's also worth mentioning that the house was full, and the crowd clearly enjoyed itself. Thus the irony of community theatre - a largely white, middle-class scene that by all academic accounts should be dying because it's so disconnected with our political struggle, but is, instead, going like gangbusters. On the other hand, Antin and Cunningham - and F.U.D.G.E. - clearly have talent, but in the end, Half-Married is only half a play, and both the playwrights and their producer need to take on projects of more complexity and theatrical (as opposed to televisual) ambition. But I can't lie - I did laugh, and if the run had been a little longer, you might have, too.

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