BWW Review: GIVE TAKE Brings Humor to Divorce at Obsidian Theater
There's nothing more daring than deciding to do a divorce comedy because it has to be one of the hardest things to pull off ever. Forget Shakespeare or Shaw, a rocky marriage falling apart is hard to get laughs from. For some insane reason Cone Man Running Productions have decided to try their hand at an original work by Bryan Maynard and Michael Weems called GIVE/TAKE that chronicles the split between a couple that has survived a decade together. The story starts when Dennis wakes up in the middle of the night to discover his wife making a list of reasons she is leaving him. First and foremost on her mind is that he is just not a "giver", and that starts him down a strange cathartic path of bad dates, washed up celebrities, and evangelical preachers who want him to be on television. He decides to give until it hurts just to prove her wrong and win her back.
The cast the company has assembled is insanely great, a mix of local talent comprised of character actors who know how to sell this sort of stuff in their sleep. The lead part of Dennis "the divorced guy" is played by one of the playwrights Bryan Maynard. He knows the material inside and out obviously, and commits wholly to the journey of a man trying to find himself in dark corners. His wife is played by Autumn Clack who always seems naturally a little better than the man she's leaving behind. She's hip, beautiful, and self-aware in her performance. Even if she can't quite tie a tie, she's easy to root for in being so likeable. These two have a nice chemistry despite that they have to be at each other's throats for most of the show.
The supporting cast is a strong one with each of them ably filling out the funny where needed. Michael Raabe is a scream as smarmy washed up pop singer, Rick Carlisle. He becomes the target of Dennis's obsession post-divorce, and gets to do an homage to the Jerry Lewis film The King of Comedy once he is taken hostage by the desperate divorcee. He makes me wish the play was simply about an out of control fan torturing the guy who he thinks ruined his marriage with his deceptively alluring "break-up" song. I dare you to leave the theatre not singing "Love Minus One", his insanely catchy hit written by Ruben Ybarra. Roy Hamlin plays the slimy uncle who doles out bad advice which boils down to "have a lot of sex and forget your ex". He underplays his part so well you have to wait a few beats for your skin to crawl as you realize he really is selling his nephew a bad bill of goods. He made me want to see an entire play about bad uncles who give bad advice in low-key bad ways.
Two of the funniest sequences in the show come when Dennis decides to date with spectacularly bad results. The girls played by Callina Situka and Kim McMillen are sexy, funny as all heck, and played to the hilt with great attention to detail. They made me wish the whole play was just about bad dates. These actresses nail their scenes! I enjoyed watching them squirm their way through some really uncomfortable moments. Also of comic note is the evangelical preacher played by Tad Howington. He has the right amount of fervor mixed with a calculating business sense. He made me wish there was a whole play about a television preacher who sought out lounge singers and divorced men hoping to bring them together.
The only drawback to the evening is the play seems too long by half. There's a ton crammed in here including a divorce, a celebrity kidnapping, a telethon, and a whole bunch of scenes in airports and restaurants. It ends three times over before we finally get to a flashback that shows the leads on their first date. I wondered why this was placed at the end, because it would have helped us care as an audience more for these kids to get back together. Where it is, it seems like a coda that just isn't justified by what comes before it. It needs to have the running time trimmed a bit, and maybe some of it reordered to give it more heft and emotional weight.
Don't let the topic or any structural problems keep you away though, because GIVE TAKE is actually a fun comedy about divorce. That's a rare animal for sure! It does navigate the terribly dark waters of the human soul in marital crisis quite nimbly thanks to a cast that's up to the challenge to make it funny. Everyone in the show has a strong comic bit, and the script affords this for each of them. Debra Schultz directs everything at a whiz bang pace that is appreciated given the length of the show. Sets are sparse and effective, and the crew flips in and out of scenes nimbly with help from the ensemble. It's nice to see Cone Man Running giving voice to new artists and writers. They should be proud this one has been given life and taken care of by an exceptional ensemble.
Tickets are a bargain-based price of $15, and available through www.conemanrunning.com or by calling (281) 972-5897. Check dates carefully though because it is running in repertory with another work which means you may see zombies instead of a divorce. This play is showing at the Obsidian Art Space.