Sunshiney Day

John Flanagan and Nina Gold star in Summertime

Charles Mee's new play, as the title implies, is happy. Charles Mee himself, in fact, is happy. He fell in love a few years ago and his playwriting has been optimistic and cheerful ever since. So it should be no surprise that the new Mee play commissioned and world-premiered by the Magic is awash in the fuzzy haze of delirious romantic love.

Am I being facetious? No. I'm only describing the tone of the play. Summertime knows all about its fuzzy overdone topic, way ahead of you, so the music swells, the women swoon, and the men strike awkward or roosterlike poses to make you laugh at people in love. The sprawling middle of the play shows friends and relatives of the would-be lovers acting like idiots, monsters, fools, or soap-opera tragedians. The idea is to evoke all the influences and demonic imagoes that beset any hapless modern couple: Freud's famous family that joins, at least psychologically, any two people in bed.

The method is wacky, nonlinear, and borrowed from Strindberg. James and Tessa meet on Martha's Vineyard, in the summer, on a deck painted like a cloud-flecked sky. The sun shines vividly; reclining patio chairs are upholstered in AstroTurf. James wants Tessa to translate something into Italian, and she agrees. There's chemistry between them, but just as Tessa seems ready to fall into his arms, a stud named Francois comes out of nowhere in a white linen suit, narrow tie, with a rose, strutting to syrupy music. Tessa strips for him, and they dance. A waiter dumps a load of silverware from a wheelbarrow, then fills a row of wineglasses with a watering can. James feels snubbed. Is it a dream? No, it's only the rest of the play.

Basically Boring: John Flanagan and Nina Gold in Summertime.
David Allen
Basically Boring: John Flanagan and Nina Gold in Summertime.

Details

By Charles Mee. Directed by Kenn Watt. Produced by the Magic Theater. Starring Nina Gold, Omar Metwally, Andrew Hurteau, and Tina Osinski. At the Magic Theater, Fort Mason Center, Building D, Marina & Buchanan, through July 23. Admission is $25-30; call 441-8822.

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A statuesque woman named Maria strides on, wearing a bikini, diamond necklace, and sheer robe. "Mom!" says Tessa. She is Tessa's mom, sure, but she's also been Francois' lover, so she and Francois have a scene. Then a butcher named Barbara comes out, wiping a bloody knife. She spits on the whole male gender in a speech about men wading through snot for the sake of warm pussy that turns out to be lifted wholesale from Valerie Solanas' SCUM Manifesto. Francois answers her with a rant about women and romance novels. And so on and on.

At first it's fun. Delia MacDougall does good edgy work as the man-hating butcher. Andrew Hurteau is an entertaining caricature of a Frenchman, as Francois, though his accent wavers, and Tina Osinski -- an opera singer who gets to show off her voice in a rant about Tuscany -- plays a fierce, impertinent, brassy Maria. One highlight is John Flanagan's speech as a pizza-delivery boy who tells the assembled characters all about the triple murder he committed awhile back, with a knife, and the lines in the New Testament he finds soothing, now, to his conscience. I'm not sure what it has to do with the rest of the play, but Flanagan strikes the right balance between a slightly dopey kid and a psychopath.

Another highlight is Frank, Maria's husband, as played by David Roche. Frank and a boy named Edmund (James Marks) play out a gay flirtation, interesting mainly because of Roche, who has a speech impediment. His tufted gray hair, comic bugged eyes, and lumpy tuberous cheeks -- malformed by a birth defect -- dampen his voice and make him look like one of those critics on The Muppet Show. But Roche can be a compelling actor in spite of the impediment, honest and funny, and his lack of pretense is just what a soliloquy in Act 2 (and frankly the whole play) needs. He sits and talks about mortality and love while Arabic music plays and his boyfriend Edmund sleeps. It's the only moment of honest feeling in the show.

Director Kenn Watt does his best to move the play forward, and there's some fine choreography by Erika Schuch. But Summertime is basically boring. Mee seems embarrassed to be writing something cheerful. Scene after scene of Strindberg-esque surrealism and manic intellectualizing on the L-word fails to communicate the actual feeling of love. Characters don't develop. You don't care who winds up with whom, and even the outcome of the core affair is no surprise. It's all concept and wild chaos, no unguarded charm. The playwright himself says he wants "to get past traditional forms of psychological realism, to bring into the frame of the plays material from history, philosophy, insanity, inattention, judicial theory, the National Enquirer ...." Sure enough, he does most of that in Summertime, but he finds nothing new.

 
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