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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
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
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
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