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Review: ‘Out of the City’ at Passage Theatre

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Leslie Ayvazian’s comedy Out of the City opens in the lobby of a Bed and Breakfast in the Poconos. Carol and her husband Matt are there for the weekend to celebrate Carol’s sixtieth birthday. Carol’s best friend of 30 years, Jill, is there to join in the celebration, along with Jill’s husband Dan. Yet while these people seem like happy couples on the surface, long-simmering issues between them are starting to bubble over. Carol and Matt are dealing with the aches and pains of growing older; Dan feels as if he’s being left out of the big decisions in his marriage; Carol and Jill feel unfulfilled.

Leslie Ayvazian, Ken Land, and June Ballinger. Photo courtesy of Passage Theatre Company.

Leslie Ayvazian, Ken Land, and June Ballinger. Photo courtesy of Passage Theatre Company.

At the end of the play’s first scene, after a long talk about where their lives are headed, the two women surprise themselves by sharing a tender kiss. Almost immediately, they’re overcome with guilt and confusion. Why did they do it? (“Have we become lesbians this weekend?” asks Jill.) Did it mean anything? (They’re not quite sure.) And what happens if their husbands find out?

For the most part, Out of the City is gentle, sweet piece about people who are determined to get older without getting stuck in a rut. Ayvazian reveals details about the characters gradually, and the show’s best jokes build on those details. The jokes work well, because we feel as if we know the characters and their concerns.

The script sometimes gets too coarse for its own good. There are some Sex and the City-style jokes about male and female genitalia, and the predictable climax is a variation on a raunchy gag from one of the American Pie movies. Crude moments like these don’t match up well with such mature, sophisticated characters.

The play works much better when we see the couples argue about their failures of communication and their desire to connect, as well as Matt’s repeated (and failed) efforts to prove that an arm injury hasn’t limited his physical ability. There’s a sincerity and authenticity to these scenes that make them easy to relate to.

Ayvazian, the playwright, seems at home playing the brash, blunt Carol, while June Ballinger (Passage Theatre’s Artistic Director) gives a sweet but flighty quality to the eager-to-please Jill. Grant Shaud shows off a talent for physical comedy as Matt, while as Dan, Ken Land gets a lot of laughs with his suspicious glares. They’re all likable actors, and Murphy Davis’ relaxed direction emphasizes their camaraderie.

Susan DeConcini’s inviting set design for the Bed and Breakfast lobby is filled with wicker furniture and airy, translucent curtains. Several scenes are set outdoors, but there are no set changes. Instead, Davis stages these moments near the edge of the stage, suggesting the outdoors through Paul Kilsdonk’s lighting and the sounds of nature in Michael Antoniewicz’s sound design.

Running Time: 80 minutes, including an intermission.

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Out of the City plays through November 20, 2016, at Passage Theatre Company – 205 East Front Street, in Trenton, NJ. For tickets, call the box office at (609) 392-0766, or purchase them online.

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