Crossword romance delivers laughs
By: Anna Borowiecki
| Posted: Wednesday, Jan 23, 2013 06:00 am
Runs until Sunday, Jan. 27
Holy Trinity Anglican Church (Lower Hall)
Tickets: $13-$15 Call 780-437-2891
Chance meetings are the foundation of great romantic comedies, and Atlas Theatre’s season opener travels through this realm at a fairly funny, brisk pace.
Playwright Jerry Mayer’s 2 Across, now playing at Holy Trinity Anglican Church until Saturday, Jan. 27, delivers the premise that, in the world of crossword puzzles and life, there are those who finish and those who quit when they hit a wall.
The action starts at 4 a.m. aboard the car of a San Francisco BART shuttle travelling to the east end. This two-hander takes place in real time – about 85 minutes – on a sparse set designed to imitate a commuter train.
Janet, dressed in a proper navy suit, is filling in the blanks of a New York Times crossword puzzle and crying. Her 18-year-old son has just dropped out of school and joined the marines. Although she’s against his decision, she’s taken him to the airport to catch a plane to his training camp. Now she’s an emotional wreck and just wants peace and quiet while finishing her crossword.
As the shuttle is about to pull away, in jumps Josh, a charming, super-chatty, loose cannon. He just won’t shut up and they get off to a bumpy start when he asks Janet to move. Josh explains he’s superstitious and she is sitting in his lucky seat.
Within the first 15 minutes we learn Janet is an uptight, rule-obeying, mace-packing psychologist. She’s always prepared for emergencies. Packed in her purse are an atlas and a dictionary. Her mantra is that crosswords are “a metaphor for life,” and she’s driven to finish each puzzle.
Josh instead treats puzzles as a game. He’s pretty loosey-goosey, preferring to dive into the sports pages when stumped. A charming free spirit, he has been unemployed for the past 18 months and isn’t particularly worried.
They’re alone in the shuttle, and naturally their conversation leads to revelations about childhood, family and careers. Slowly as their outer image is stripped away, we learn about their hopes, dreams and disappointments.
Similar to frothy Neil Simon comedies, 2 Across delivers a breezy text full of snappy one-liners. Meyer has an impressive resume writing for TV sitcoms such as All in the Family, Mary Tyler Moore and M.A.S.H.
His zingers don’t create a lot of meaty substance to the text, but the verbal sparring does make the show crackle and pop, such as when Janet berates Josh’s character. Without missing a beat, Josh retorts, “I do have zero character, but it’s hard to stand up when you don’t have a spine.”
While some of the plot twists seem improbable, the characters are very relatable. We all know someone like the perfectionist Janet or the intellectually lazy Josh. But by the time their stop is reached, the duo’s perspective has changed. They have moved from an affair of the mind to something more.
One of the most successful ingredients of the production is the instant rapport between its co-stars, Kate Ryan (A Christmas Carol, Angels on Horseback) and James Hamilton (Nighthawk Rules, Pervert, The Mighty Carlins).
Ryan, a former St. Albert Children’s Theatre actress, is the perfect foil for James Hamilton’s Josh. As one of Edmonton’s favourite leading ladies, Ryan portrays her character as a dignified enigma, a super organized woman who feels she’s losing control of her life.
Through a stranger she rediscovers herself experiencing a wide spectrum of emotions – sadness, frustration, anger, joy, laughter and hope. It’s a testament to Ryan’s skills that her nit-picky, uptight character lets go of the starchiness and learns to relax in a natural, believable framework.
Hamilton is also an actor who has notched a lot of homeruns with local audiences. He is spring-loaded with clever, surprising remarks. Although Josh is first introduced as a lightweight who glides through life shooting from the hip, Hamilton successfully injects some soul into his cockiness and we learn there is more on the ball than meets the eye.
It’s difficult to direct a script where there is minimal action and the actors sit most of the time. Yet Julien Arnold’s vision and blocking keeps the pace moving at a bracing speed.
As gentle, romantic comedies go, 2 Across is a warm-hearted antidote to the sharp cold outside.