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ONLY YOU

Griffin Theatre Company

Love is two minutes fifty-two seconds of squishing noises. It shows your mind isn't clicking right.--Johnny Rotten

Timothy Mason's love farce Only You fobs off five cartoons as characters, then asks us to care about them. No thanks, not when this playwright imagines that he gives a female character depth by making her simper, "Deep, deep, deep down I'm just a little girl in a party dress."

It doesn't get any deeper than that.

Using stunted blackout scenes, Mason recycles stereotypes like some thespian ecologist. These characters may prattle about Proust and Jane Austen, but their brains are where they sit. Worse, Mason creates them from the outside in--take away their quirks and they'd crumble to stage dust. Then, like too many of today's lazy, formula-snorting, cuteness-crazed playwrights, Mason puts his tediously eccentric three men and two women through an elaborately simpleminded game of musical beds. The only question is: Which jerk will be the odd man out? (Please, if you see yourself on this stage, get help.)

A waiter who's also waiting for love and/or marriage, Leo is a nervous nebbish whose idea of courtship is to blurt out, "If I were a multiple amputee, would you love me?" When this self-conscious twit is not sticking a foot down his alimentary canal, he's listening to the voice of God--Who, according to Mason, serves as a kind of Playboy adviser to the sexually stupid.

Leo's love is Miriam, an emotionally stoppered systems analyst who suffers from a "Prince Charming complex": as a child she fell in love with a storybook illustration, and life has cruelly refused to flesh it out for her. A control freak who repeatedly loses control, Miriam announces that she's the victim of her own excessive expectations, thus joining the 5,000 other post-Chekhovian characters who suffer the same ailment.

Then there's Leo's buddy Eddie, a shallow soul whose idea of joy is revealed when he asks Leo to smell his new stereo. Which Leo does--proving Mason's inability to say no to a dumb sight gag. Leo's other pal is orthopedic-parts salesman Bo, a sad sack who is feeling some inner repercussions from a recent breakup: "Do you know what eight and a half months of celibacy will do to your prostate?" Mason even gets laughs out of hypochondriac Bo's regurgitation. Completing the goofball quintet is Bo's ex, Heather, an airhead whose eating binges are, we surmise, nature's way of coping with a room-temperature IQ.

Before Mason pulls the plug on this silliness--through a preposterous deus ex machina resolution--Leo has slept with Miriam, Eddie with Heather, Heather with Bo, Bo with Miriam, and Leo with Heather. (Why Miriam and Eddie don't sleep together remains one of life's imponderables.) In the end, Eddie--our odd man out--decides to enter a monastery. Anything for a laff.

Trying to pass off stand-up shtick for character development, Mason has loser Bo forlornly describe a party where he was, as usual, ignored: "The saddest part is when I go home and take all the unused condoms out of my pocket--why six? What was I thinking about anyway?" Mason's consistent decisions to mock his characters by giving them ludicrously improbable behavior completely undermine any chance that we'll take them seriously. Leo has an endless, witless, and pointless monologue in which he pours out a story about catering an employee farewell party where he ends up getting groped by a Hungarian "queen." Why does Mason throw this in? Does he think a little xenophobic homophobia might lighten things up?

The Griffin Theatre Company seem to like this trendy fluff--and sometimes, as in their outright brilliant production of Howard Korder's Boys' Life, they can turn it to stage gold. But the stereotypes in Only You sink the troupe. Director Richard A. Barletta doesn't even play traffic cop. The actors connect only in their cues; otherwise they're on their self-indulgent own.

When in doubt, resort to mannerisms. All but improvising, G. Scott Thomas plays Leo moment to moment; he knows the clown has no consistency. Wendy Goeldner succeeds too well at showing Miriam's contempt for the slobs she sleeps with (Miriam needs so much "space" she might as well go it alone); when she softens later, the conversion's hard to buy.

Kimberly Muller's Heather is little more than Betty Boop on a dumb day; Muller surrenders unconditionally to a part riddled with misogyny. It might have been better to make Heather a man--after all, in the final idiotic scene, Bo appears in drag. Then she might seem a delicious feminist revenge.

In the production's best performance--comparatively--David Williams manages to ground Eddie's compassionate matchmaking in a real guy, but he can't overcome the fact that Eddie is only a clumsy go-between and confidant. Joe Carrig, aping Dustin Hoffman's idiot savant in Rain Man, grabs the most laughs as Bo, the humorlessly hypochondriachal dweeb. But in a second-act exchange with Thomas, Carrig came perilously close to cracking up out of character, always a sign of sloppy lack of direction.

Almost everything that appears on this stage wears out its welcome--even the scene changes in which the actors, more or less in character, merrily roll out their props to a musical backdrop of jukebox favorites. It's cute--but the rollicking zest of these switches never spills over into the dialogue that follows. In no time the actors are back to chasing cliches over a cliff.

A final curiosity: the program warns that "There will be a gunshot fired during the performance." A balloon pops, true, but there's no gunshot. An intriguing concept, this--let an audience worry about a noise that never happens. But why stop there? "Molten lava and strobe lights will be used sometime during the action." "Acid rain is one of the special effects." That should keep the crowd alert.

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