Skin of Our Teeth Productions
at the New Lincoln Theatre
Is God dead? Do our lives have any meaning in the universe? What is the secret of happiness? Enquiring minds want to know.
That's Eden Court in a nutshell. Murphy Guyer's comedy veers strangely, unevenly, but engagingly between the "big questions" and lamebrain, down-home sitcom as it portrays the marital crisis of a young couple living in a southern trailer court. Guyer's Adam and Eve surrogates are Shroeder, who's turning 30 and can't cope, and Bonnie, who's 25 and can't ignore the ticking of her biological clock. She wants a child, but Shroeder can't handle the responsibility. Locked in a nowhere job with a wife he loves and desires but can't communicate with, Shroeder wants to do something more important with his life than just work and breed. Bonnie is a feisty, loving little thing, wrapped up in keeping her marriage happy and listening to Elvis records. Confused by Shroeder's withdrawn sullenness, she tries to spice up their marriage on hubby's 30th birthday with a specially prepared cake and a specially mail-ordered "baby doll" naughty nightie. True to the genre, her best laid plans go awry, they fight, she leaves, and he's briefly unfaithful; after two acts of confrontation and cutting up, the couple settle down for commiseration and, perhaps, a little better communication.
What makes Eden Court more than just the usual disposable fluff is that Guyer lets his tongue-tied, hard-drinking rednecks have moments of eloquent introspection that, when played right, are convincing and touching. These moments nearly all come in the second act, after a first act of rowdy, roughhouse comedy. As nearly everyone noticed when Eden Court was done last year by the Huron Theater, the play's two halves are structurally unbalanced; but even at its most manic the script offers good, meaty roles and plenty of opportunities for fast-paced funny business. By packing most of the knockabout clowning into the first act, Guyer makes the second-act soul-searching seem more probing than, on reflection, it actually is.
In its current staging of the play, the fledgling Skin of Our Teeth Productions fails to differentiate between the play's varying tones, leveling the script out into a flat middle ground that neither amuses nor convinces. The characters as played here are like flat tires that need pumping up; the southern accents are bad, the timing is off, the good comic bits are blown; neither Rick Reardon, as the lanky, strutting Shroeder, nor Joanne Wisner, as the wiry, high-strung Bonnie, come close to conveying the right physical presence. There's certainly no compelling reason for this company to do this script, especially since it's been seen here so recently. The one possible "hook" that could make the play seem newly relevant in the hands of a canny director is Bonnie's all-consuming devotion to Elvis Presley, the tenth anniversary of whose death has dominated the media this past week. Elvis is the God figure in Guyer's Eden metaphor: he may be dead as far as the moody Shroeder is concerned, but Bonnie's faith keeps him forever alive in her heart. Director Elio Concepcion nearly completely ignores the Elvis angle; he hasn't even found a way to use more than a snatch of the dead star's music, much less to illuminate his resonance in Bonnie's life. This is apparently Skin of Our Teeth's first production; may they fare better next time out.