If you feel like you need to watch a comedy from behind your hands, either something’s gone terribly wrong or something’s gone terribly right. In this case it’s definitely the latter. The Keegan Theatre’s Things You Shouldn’t Say Past Midnight is a funny, brutally honest, and surprisingly deep look at relationships and identity.
Written by Peter Ackerman, Things You Shouldn’t Say is the story of a young couple, Ben (Michael Innocenti) and Nancy (Caroline Wolfson) in New York City. Or at least, it starts that way. After a late night fight caused by some… indiscreet mid-coital comments on Nancy’s part, the story turns to Nancy’s friend Grace (Allison Corke) and her new boy-toy Gene (Peter Finnegan). Grace and Gene have their own relationship issues, which are interrupted by Nancy’s arrival on the doorstep. Seeking advice, they call Gene’s brother – and Grace’s therapist – Mark (Kevin Hasser) who is currently in bed with his latest fling, Donald Abramson (Timothy H. Lynch). Hilarity, and the world’s most awkward conference call, ensues. If I’m being cagey about the details, it’s not to keep the plot secret But one of the real delights of the show is how surprising Ackerman’s dialogue is, how well-played the twists are, and how deep the characters can dig themselves as they try their best to explain what they’re really feeling. While the script has its issues, the cast at Keegan does a fine job of exploring the way we use other people to shore up our own identities.
The set, designed by the multi-talented Innocenti, is primarily composed of three beds. Ben’s foldout couch waits center stage; stage right is Grace’s overdone boudoir; left and above the main stage, Mark’s tasteful modern. The open set design lends itself to the sprawling conversation that dominates the second half of the show, making it both easy and visually interesting to follow. Innocenti also nails it as the nebbishy Ben, seeming put-upon even when things are going his way. That makes things a bit harder for Caroline Wolfson’s Nancy. As the instigator of the drama, Nancy already has to work her way back into the audience’s good graces. That’s a much harder task when Ben is on the other side of the equation, although Wolfson’s emotional confessions manage to rescue Nancy by the end. The couple make a good anchor for the piece.
Gene and Grace are a little harder to pin down. Peter Finnegan’s Gene seems like a good guy, but in an overbearing way that comes off as a boundary-ignoring rather than persistent and romantic. It’s a bit of tone-deafness on the part of the script that plays oddly with Finnegan’s extreme likeability. It helps that Corke’s Grace makes it clear that she sees Gene’s negatives as well as his positives. But Grace also occupies a strange place in the script, since she knows what she wants and other people keep trying to change her mind. Corke navigates these waters deftly, but it still feels like she shouldn’t have to.
As Mark and Mr. Donaldson, Kevin Hasser and Timothy Lynch are in danger of running away with the whole show. It seems almost redundant to point out Lynch’s comic talents, and the worldly, befuddled Abramson is the perfect vehicle for him. As Mark, Hasser positively shines. He’s charming, funny, just the right amount of gossipy, and one of the only characters in the play who understands the balance between people needing to confront relationship issues and people needing their privacy.
While the promo materials describe the play as a “screwball comedy,” Things You Shouldn’t Say operates asks some really deep questions about identity and our relationships with other people. At the end of the day, sometimes we don’t like ourselves very much – instead, we like what other people must see in us. But if what they like is the part of us that we hate… well, there’s the rub.
Running Time: Approximately 90 minutes, with no intermission.
Things You Shouldn’t Say Past Midnight plays through June 7, 2014 at The Keegan Theatre – 1742 Church Street, NW, in Washington D.C. For tickets, call the box office at (703) 892-0202, or purchase them online.