BWW Review: 2 ACROSS at Coachella Valley Repertory
Coachella Valley Repertory's 2017-2018 season theme is "Romance: Real or Imagined." As with a fine meal, they are wrapping up their season with a frothy dessert, 2 Across. This charming comedy about two people who meet on a train is as light as a soufflé, and just as delicious. Like any fine dish, it relies on top ingredients and the cast, direction, and technical details all are delivered at that highly professional level we have grown to expect from CV Rep.
At the top of the show, a woman (Andrea Gwynnel) is quietly crying as she sits alone on a BART train car. A man (Joel Bryant) runs across the station's platform to catch the train, just jumping onboard before the door closes. Their body language tells us that she is buttoned-down while he is a free spirit, so we immediately see conflict. Their earliest exchanges are based on the fact that they are both working on the same crossword puzzle in the newspaper. She is adamant that the rules of puzzles must be strictly followed, while he wants to believe that "near enough is good enough." Both of the actors are top-notch, and their chemistry together is perfect. Gwynnell's officious businesswoman eventually cracks enough to show her human side, and Bryant's loose unemployed guy is actually revealed to be very savvy at dealing with human hurts. They make it easy for us to like both of them by the end of the play.
Playwright Jerry Mayer has done a great job of pushing through the awkwardness of their early parries - why would two strangers start talking? The mutual crossword puzzles break the ice, then each starts to reveal clues about themselves, and make guesses about the other. Mayer has used the analogy that not all crossword clues are obvious - you have to figure out the real import of the words of the clue. The man wears a wedding ring and talks about his wife, the woman also describes her husband, so romance certainly can't be on the menu - or can it? How literal are the clues?
Director Deborah Harmon directed the world premiere of 2 Across some 14 years ago at the Santa Monica Playhouse, so she certainly understands the characters and their rhythms. The loose cannon guy actually proves to be quite sensitive, while the uptight lady might not be quite as tough as she likes to think she is. Their finding of a middle ground is indeed charming, and Harmon seems to know when to step on the accelerator and when to tap the brake. She also has managed to introduce plenty of character movement into two people sitting on a train, a situation that in real life could be pretty stagnant.
And speaking of the train, set designer Jimmy Cuomo has delivered a very realistic looking train car facing us, with our half of the car cut away at an angle. We can also see the station platform to the left and right of the car. Moira Wilkie Whitaker's lighting design has random lights flashing occasionally on the train's windows to remind us that the train is in motion, and she lights the station to the sides of the train whenever the train is sitting in a station. Kate Fechtig's sound design includes those ubiquitous recorded announcements about which town is coming up next. Since most of us at least vaguely know the order of towns on San Francisco's east bay, it's easy and fun to visualize the progress of the train, and the announcement that "The end of the line is five minutes away" tells us that the loose ends of the plot must come together very soon.
2 Across is good, simple fun. I found myself smiling through almost the entire 90-minutes (there is no intermission), and what's wrong with that? I left the theatre with a bounce in my step, and perhaps a bit of a romantic twinkle in my eye! The show plays through May 20. Tickets and further information are available at www.CVRep.org or by phoning 760-296-2966.
Although this show wraps up CV Rep's play season, there are plenty of concerts and special events scheduled for the summer. It's also very exciting to watch the company progressing on their new home at the former Desert Cinema in Cathedral City.