May 9, 2009 in News

A warm but predictable ‘May’

By The Spokesman-Review
 
“The Affections of May,” Friday night, Firth Chew Studio Theatre at the Spokane Civic Theatre

Norm Foster’s “The Affections of May” is a simple, predictable, warm-hearted and reasonably funny romantic comedy on the general theme of “Smart Women, Foolish Choices.”

Or, to pick another apropos self-help title: “He’s Just Not That Into You.”

May’s self-absorbed husband, Brian, is the guy who is just not that into her. In first-time director Heather McHenry-Kroetch’s well-judged first scene, Brian comes downstairs in their small-town bed-and-breakfast carrying a suitcase. Over breakfast and general small talk, the light dawns ever so gradually in May’s eyes: The jerk is leaving her.

He’s sick of the small-town life. He’s heading back to the big city, where a high-paying job and a hot new girlfriend await.

The rest of this slim plot revolves around the fact that a single, available woman is a novelty, and powerfully attractive novelty at that, in the little town of Grogan’s Cove. Two men immediately pursue May: Quinn, the hard-drinking handyman with scandalous baggage; and Hank, the weaselly but well-meaning banker who still lives with Mom.

This scenario is complicated slightly by the fact that May is not actually “available.” She’s still married to the absent Brian. The result is a comedy of manners involving a banker in a bunny suit and a drunken game of Scrabble in which “triple word score” takes on a whole new meaning.

The plot by Foster (who has been called the Canadian Neil Simon) has few surprises and I’m not giving away too much to say that it ends with the prospect of May finding happiness in little Grogan’s Cove. It’s a sweet – and at times sexy – story not far removed from a romance novel – although considerably funnier.

McHenry-Kroetch’s job is to make the characters so endearing that we pull for them and have an emotional stake in the outcome. She succeeds nicely, especially in the performances of Chasity Kohlman as May and Brad Picard as Quinn.

Kohlman is a bundle of energy in every scene, standing on her toes, swinging her arms, biting her bottom lip in embarrassed frustration. I would call her performance nearly a “full Diane Keaton,” meaning that she makes neuroticism seem utterly charming. I liked Kohlman best in the scenes where she toned down the broad facial gestures and body language just a notch.

Picard was also charming in the calmer role of Quinn. I’ve seen him in numerous roles and this was perhaps his most thoughtful and subtle. In one scene, May practically throws herself at him in a bout of drunken passive-aggressiveness. Picard pulls off a difficult combination here: He maintains his character’s dignity and sense of humor at the same time.

The other two actors, Andrew Biviano as Hank the banker and Paul Villabrille as Brian the husband, also are effective. These roles, however, are written as stock foils, so the actors don’t have as much to work with. When Brian returns to Grogan’s Cove in the second act, he’s so heartless and slimy the audience might as well hiss him off the stage like a melodrama’s villain.

One thing the entire cast does well: They listen to each other and react to the moment. That’s another mark of good direction.

Still, to me, this show never quite went to that higher level, where the characters are utterly believable and the audience hangs on every word. That’s because of the script, which presents May as having, let’s face it, the emotional maturity of a teenager. She continually digs herself into holes with her mood swings and her tongue, and then wonders why people don’t behave the way she wants them to. Maybe the title should have been, “The Affectations of May.”

I got a few good laughs out of this show and maybe even an emotional insight or two. But overall? I was just not that into “May.”

“The Affections of May” continues through May 31. Call (509) 325-2507 for tickets.

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