Things You Shouldn't Say Past Midnight 

Theater Review

Theater! Theatre!, 239-5919
Through Sept 30

It's those exclamation points that give the game away. Like the one-word titled musical versions of popular movies, everything about Triangle Productions! seems to end in an exclamation point, from the name of the company to its venue. In a theatrical context, it bespeaks high spirited mediocrity, self congratulatory superficiality, middlebrow moral values, and fan-like dedication to theatrical icons.

Judy Garland Tonight! One imagines that Triangle operator Don Horn wishes he could sprinkle exclamation points on all the plays he produces, like jimmies on an ice cream cone. In a sense, he does. But behind Triangle's frothy surface lies steely determination in the form of Horn himself, a successful businessman whose recent tactical moves in an ongoing feud with Willamette Week theater reviewer Steffen Silvis reveal well-timed aggression.

Triangle's fall season opener, Things You Shouldn't Say Past Midnight, declares the company's strengths and weaknesses. The plot of Peter Ackerman's play is a few steps up from a sitcom. Ben (Spencer Conway) and Nancy (Michelle Maida) return to his apartment to have sex, whereupon they have a fight. She leaves and goes to the apartment of her friend Grace, where she (Cherie Price) is trying to have immediate sex with her latest discovery, Gene (Dale Johannes), a hitman. Hearing Nancy's problem, Grace determines that they must call Mark (Michael Teufel), Grace's shrink and Gene's brother, for advice. Mark is in bed with an older man named Donald Abramson (Jeff Miller). Getting Ben on the phone, too, the six-way phone chat solves most of the group's problems, at least on the surface.

As farce, Ackerman's play doesn't attain the level of the great farçeurs from Feydeau to Frayn. It's lightweight stuff, raising some interesting issues without seeming to have a firm or clear viewpoint on them. For example, Ben and Nancy's fight starts when, during the middle of sex, she screams, "Do me, you hook-nosed Jew!" But though she tries to explain at various points in the play, her theories are neither plausible (sex with a Jew strikes her as sexily "dirty"), or explored to interesting conclusions.

There is room for middlebrow theater, as long as that isn't the only kind of brow a city's theater scene offers. The plays just have to be done with superlative accuracy and distracting zest. Farce calls for precision. But this play also calls for realistic performances, which are intermittent.

Conway and Maida aren't thoroughly convincing, though the show's run may bring improvements. Their first scene is hobbled by exclamation point-sized bigness: Nancy knocks down Ben no less than three times. Johannes is convincing as a New York tough, but garbed oddly (in smoking jacket) and given aimless direction. Price's Grace is very good, but she is got-up in leather vest, boots, and whip. While it provides a striking alternative to the other costumes, this look isn't indicated by anything she says or does.

Teufel is energetic, and Miller has priceless timing. Physical flaws, such as stuck doors and disintegrating phones, will vanish after post-first night tweaking. What won't change is the dinner theater superficiality of the whole thing.

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