The wacky, angst-laden romantic history of Susan (Nicole Tocantins) and Jason (Dan Bucatinsky) can very well be distilled down to that sneering childhood retort, "I know you are but what am I?" Playwright Bucatinsky has crafted a light but often hilarious pas de deux between two monumentally insecure almost-30 city-dwellers who must each overcome quite a few quirky, self-destructive propensities in order to accept one another.

The wacky, angst-laden romantic history of Susan (Nicole Tocantins) and Jason (Dan Bucatinsky) can very well be distilled down to that sneering childhood retort, “I know you are but what am I?” Playwright Bucatinsky has crafted a light but often hilarious pas de deux between two monumentally insecure almost-30 city-dwellers who must each overcome quite a few quirky, self-destructive propensities in order to accept one another. Director Don Amendolia does an excellent job of guiding Tocantins and Bucatinsky through every nuance of the life and times of Susan and Jason.

Squaring off on a minimally furnished set are acid-tongued, alcoholic, pre-school teacher Susan, who likes to make her martinis in 16-ounce containers, and supremely anal retentive newspaper copy editor Jason, who can work himself into a rage of literary indignation by Susan’s ending the children’s poem, “… fuzzy wuzzy wasn’t fuzzy wuzzy,” rather than the rhetorically correct, ” … wasn’t fuzzy, was he?”

Though both are starving to love and be loved, their life-acquired, self-protective armor only allows each to back into a kind of barbed “friendship.” In a series of marvelously performed scenic vignettes, Tocantins and Bucatinsky demonstrate how Susan and Jason grow into each other despite themselves. Naturally, when their developing deep affection throws them together for one evening of lust, they both flee: Susan to AA and Jason to an AIDS clinic to be tested.

Exhibiting marvelous comic timing throughout, Tocantins also exudes an earthy sensuality that is only heightened by Susan’s man-baiting sarcasm. When she finds herself losing ground during her many tirades against men, life and commitment, Susan usually explodes with the argument-ending punchline, “Do the math!” Yet, Tocantins never allows this refugee from alcoholic parents and myriad dead-end relationships to ever lose track of the passionate, loving soul that is struggling to emerge.

Bucatinsky certainly knows the character of Jason, which he manages to invest with an endearing, unassuming charm, despite the young man’s often absurd personality quirks. Bucatinsky makes every aspect of Jason’s character believable, whether it be his fanatical searching for a specific “action figure” at a flea market or his pompous lecture on movie intermission promos or his diatribe on the correct terminology to use in identifying the male organ, depending on the context.

As telephone voice-over characters, Peter Spears (Brett) and Emily Newman (Jackie) offer excellent comic-relief as Jason’s and Susan’s best friends, respectively. And a highlight of the show is provided by Andrea Martin as the telephone voice of Jason’s psychiatrist mother, Dr. Wyckoff, dictating instructions on how to perform his own testicular exam while Susan and Jason listen with horrified fascination.

I Know You Are, but What Am I

Tiffany Theatre: 99 seats; $30 top

Production

Susan Dietz presents a play in one act by Dan Bucatinsky, directed by Don Amendolia.

Cast

Cast: Nicole Tocantins (Susan), Dan Bucatinsky (Jason), Emily Newman (Voice of Jackie), Peter Spears (Voice of Brett), Andrea Martin (Voice of Dr. Wyckoff).
Lighting design, Sophia Corona; costume design, Peter Mitchell. Opened and reviewed Feb. 3; runs until April 21. Running time: 1 hour, 10 min.
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