Bittersweet remembrance is a slender hook on which to dangle a pair of fine actors, and the stage version of Lionel Goldstein’s “Halpern & Johnson” can’t hold the weight for two hours.
Hal Linden and Brian Murray deliver all the goods in the romantic drama’s American premiere at Miami’s Coconut Grove Playhouse. But their performances can’t disguise the fact that Goldstein’s idyll has only one verse and a chorus.
The stage adaptation of Goldstein’s 1983 HBO TV movie has been performed in Israel, Australia and South America, and Goldstein finesses the Miami production along with director David Ellenstein. The current version is undeniably poignant, as the title characters pine over the death of the woman who meant much to both men.
Linden has the showier but less substantive role as Halpern, the husband, reacting to news of his late wife’s secret life with disbelief, shock, consternation and jealousy — before an inevitable arrival at resignation and acceptance. Murray has deeper themes to plumb as the mysterious other man who carried a torch for a lifetime for the woman who jilted him.
The physical production is warm and pastoral; painted drops and arches of a wooded cemetery and city park scenes frame a bench and wishing fountain by scenic designer Paul Wonsek, with dappled lighting by Kirk Bookman.
Ellenstein’s direction is tender and sympathetic, but there’s not much to explore in Goldstein’s after-the-fact romantic triangle. “Halpern & Johnson” drags out opening exposition, then pushes the pieces of the men’s lives around until they decide to call an emotional truce.