BWW Reviews: No Rules Premieres THE PERSONAL(S)

By: Apr. 29, 2013

The upstart No Rules Theatre Company is currently making another step in its theatrical journey. Producing Artistic Director Brian Sutow uses Stanley Tucci and Theo Van Gogh's films - both entitled Blind Date - as a basis for his own world premiere stage adaptation of The Personal(s). While I commend the small company, now in residence at Arlington's renowned Signature Theatre, for taking a chance on an untested work, the Josh Hecht-directed production is problematic. Thanks to the strength of the cast, an interesting core idea and the production values, it is worthy of a glimpse although it's certainly not a must-see event of the season.

Like the Blind Date films - and some familiarity with the source material may make one more appreciative of Sutow's adaptation - The Personal(s) introduces us to Don (Michael Kramer) and Janna (Anne Kanengeiser). With time, it's revealed (in a subtle way) that the two are married to each other. They go on a series of 'blind dates,' set up through personal ads, at a magician-themed bar (beautifully designed by Daniel Conway; his set is the star of the production) where Don - who has an affinity for all things illusionist - works. Young bar employee Henry - played with a comedic edge here by the excellent Spencer Trinwith - assists in helping Don to plan and execute the evenings on occasion, but the story is largely Don and Janna's. Their marriage has seen some good times, but also (perhaps) more numerous tragedies so these dates are a way for them to reconnect with each other and reestablish their relationship without being haunted by the ghosts of the past. Ultimately, the dates continue to test their relationship and change it forever.

The fragmented nature of Sutow's script is suitable for the episodic 'vignettes' that play out at the bar. As appropriate, he focuses most attention on the interplay between Don and Janna. While it's clear why he's structured his story in this way - each blind date can stand on its own but ultimately provides insight into the larger picture of their marriage - it does not make for a very interesting storytelling overall. Adding to the problem, it's unclear why anyone would want to have a relationship with either individual - particularly Don - due to each person's prickly personality and neuroses, so it's difficult to become invested in their individual and collective plights. Even as things go sour on more than one occasion, audience members may be left to say, "ok, who cares?" Still, to Sutow's credit, he manages to infuse moments of comedy into the admittedly morose story which explain that although strained, these two individuals do - for whatever reason - share a bond apart from Don sharing a similar profession to Janna's father.

Kramer and Kanengeiser do well to quietly explore the observable and non-observable turmoil that Don and Janna face both as individuals and as a pair. Moments of anger (some of which is one sided and instigated by the rather explosive Don), tenderness, sadness and joking are interspersed into nearly every date they go on. Both have a keen and natural understanding of what makes each of their characters 'tick' although Kanengeiser's sometimes overly mannered way of speaking can take us out of the moment at times. Overall, their believable portrayals serve the piece well.

Hecht has staged the play beautifully making good use of Conway's exquisitely detailed and realistic set of a bar that harkens our memories back to yesteryear. Sam Kusnetz's sound design, including music emanating from a gramophone (even if it sounds digital) establishes further ambience as does Cory Ryan Frank's lighting design. Chelsey Schuller's simple costumes, like the sound and lighting changes, further tune the audience into the passage of time from one date to another. Although the pacing of the production is problematic - particularly in the middle of the ninety minute production - the beautiful pictures created on stage can make the audience forget about the moments that drag.

Is the show perfect? No. However, I give all involved kudos for making a solid attempt.

Running Time: 90 minutes with no intermission.

The Personal(s) plays through May 18, 2012 in Signature Theatre's smaller Ark Theatre space - 4200 Campbell Avenue in Arlington, VA. Tickets are available for purchase via Ticketmaster.

Graphic: Provided by No Rules Theatre Company

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