Middle-aged male angst isn’t a new subject for contemporary drama, but it’s handled with refreshing subtlety and wit in this serious comedy about an odd couple of East Coast condo neighbors by playwright Wendy MacLeod, premiering at the Seattle Repertory Theater.
Bill (R. Hamilton Wright) is a young marketing executive on the rise — intelligent, tasteful and sensitive — who’s moved in down the hall from Jack (Jeff Steitzer), a beer-swilling, braying, self-proclaimed jackass. Jack seems eager to dump his whole, messy life on Bill’s doorstep. His ex-wife and children hold him in contempt and he’s just been diagnosed with cancer; in short, life as a divorcee is not as fun and carefree as he had anticipated. Jack gives Bill the lowdown immediately after barging into his new neighbor’s pristine condominium (designed to be perfectly generic by Don Yanik). Bill does his best to deflect Jack’s probing questions about his own personal life; Jack is relentless. Over time, as Bill’s life begins to unravel, their commonality — a desire for love, a fear of failure and mortality — brings them together.
Despite the sitcommy elements, the play is fairly sophisticated, with wry observations and literary references. At one point, Jack and Bill compare themselves to Didi and Gogo in “Waiting for Godot,” waiting for women who never arrive.
Also, even at the Heartwarming Moment of Male Bonding that is the climax of the second act, the play doesn’t lose its black wit. Jack reveals a dark secret to Bill, and then, sobbing, throws himself into Bill’s arms. We feel the depth of his pain, but can still laugh, because he makes such a spectacle of himself.
Occasionally, MacLeod goes too far to prove her characters vulnerable, but in general, the drama-to-comedy ratio feels right.
Much credit here must be given to the fine cast — two of Seattle’s most accomplished comic actors, having a ball — and director Kurt Beattie, just named artistic director of Seattle’s troubled ACT Theater). Beattie has successfully probed the contradictions in male friendships before, with a fine Seattle Rep production of Yasmina Reza’s “Art” (also featuring Wright). MacLeod’s play might not be quite as multilayered and thought-provoking as Reza’s, but it’s a well spent two hours in the company of characters who entertain and, occasionally, move us.