The Beginning of August, Pendulum Theatre Company, at the Athenaeum Theatre. Tom Donaghy is best known to Chicago audiences for his quirky Down the Shore, produced at the Goodman almost a decade ago. For all its faults, that play displayed an infectious, almost intoxicating love of language.
The Beginning of August is much less daring. Donaghy's dialogue is so straightforward it could pass for a high-quality TV script. And his story, about a new father trying to cope when his wife suddenly abandons him and their baby, is touching but fairly conventional: in the mildly wacky cable-sitcom plot, Donaghy's protagonist has a gay fling with a neighbor while his wife is boinking the handyman.
Still, Donaghy's comedy is funny enough, and his message--everyone is eccentric, so we should all try to get along--is so sweet and inoffensive it's hard not to like the play. Similarly, Carolyn Mlakar is not a flashy or particularly inspired director, but her production is clear, and her casting is on the mark--especially cunning are Jan Sodaro as the protagonist's lonely stepmother and Rian Jairell as the heartsick handyman. And Mlakar's pace is lively enough to keep Donaghy's cartoon suburbs from becoming annoying.