Corrections or additions?

This review by Jack Florek was prepared for the February 18, 2004

issue of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Drama Review: ‘Lips Together’

While it is said that time heals all wounds, it doesn’t make mediocre

plays any better. In fact, it sometimes makes them worse.

In the 13 years since "Lips Together, Teeth Apart" – a play using the

AIDS epidemic as its backdrop – opened in New York there have been

significant medical advances for those with AIDS or who are HIV

positive. But the current production of Terrence McNally’s play – at

George Street Playhouse through Sunday, March 7 – ignores these

medical advances and unabashedly serves up the old homophobic AIDS

hysteria of the 1980s. Unfortunately, bereft of its timeliness, the

play, as well as the production, comes across as little better than a

maudlin mess.

Of course, "Lips Together, Teeth Apart" is not a play about AIDS, but

about people’s everyday fear and inability to communicate. Sam Truman

(Kevin Carolan) and his wife Sally (Deirdre Madigan), have inherited

the oceanside home on Fire Island that once belonged to Sally’s

brother David, who died of AIDS. Visiting for the Fourth of July

holiday are Sam’s sister Chloe (Alison Fraser) and her husband John

Haddock (John Bolger). Both couples, thoroughly heterosexual, have

difficulty adjusting to the homosexual neighborhood, their own marital

indiscretions, as well as the frailty and meaning of life. Wracked

with self-absorbed angst, each struggles to navigate through the mire

long enough to save their respective marriages and emerge with a shred

of dignity.

In a play as unsubtle as "Lips Together, Teeth Apart," the direction

by Michael Morris only makes things worse. Crudeness is the rule as

Morris allows his characters to latch on to the shallowest of feelings

and emote like cartoon characters on a benzene high. So when a woman

stands isolated and weeping while the other three sing "America the

Beautiful," she comes across not as someone who hides her tears but as

someone who wants to be seen hiding her tears. Madigan, as Sally,

delivers every line as if she were Antigone. Kevin Carolan plays her

husband Sam exactly like Fred Flintstone. Alison Fryer does a nice

Bernadette Peters impersonation, and John Bolger settles into the

glossy persona of a smooth talking nighttime disc jockey.

The best parts of "Lips Together, Teeth Apart" is the comedy, and

there are quite a few belly laughs in the nearly three-hour long

production. While these are mostly one-liners woven into the drama

with sitcom-like subtlety ("I’m not saying my sister married a

fruitcake, but she didn’t marry any Pete Rose either"), the cast seems

to reach for these moments like drowning victims for a dinghy.

The set design by R. Michael Miller is another strength. By crafting a

seamless rendition of a beach house – complete with an onstage

swimming pool – Miller has created an environment that enhances the

storyline while adding a good dose of visual beauty. Christopher J.

Bailey’s delicate lighting design, offering refined moody accents that

include a boisterous fireworks display, is also excellent.

While "Lips Together, Teeth Apart" is a disappointment, it does have

its good points. It’s probably a good thing that McNally’s play feels

like a period piece. It was originally performed in 1991, just after

the peak of AIDS hysteria which saw the general heterosexual

population afraid of becoming infected by simply touching a door knob,

shaking someone’s hand, or taking a dip in a swimming pool. These are

things no intelligent person considers valid any longer. But now, as

we emerge out of the era of duct tape and tinfoil, the play does make

it obvious that every era has its own peculiar brand of hysteria.

– Jack Florek

Lips Together, Teeth Apart, George Street Playhouse, 9 Livingston

Avenue, New Brunswick, 732-246-7717. Terrence McNally’s 1991 hit

comedy For mature audiences. Www.gsponline.org. To March 7. $28 to

$52.


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