Student dramaturgs could really learn their trade by practicing on "Greek Holiday."

Student dramaturgs could really learn their trade by practicing on “Greek Holiday,” Mayo Simon’s overwritten but under-realized comedic drama about a young couple’s attempt to rescue their rocky marriage by taking a romantic holiday on a Greek island. Situation has comic potential, and scribe knows his characters, captures their idiomatic quirks and is unafraid to play around with a stylistic effect or two. But he indulges himself with one utterly unnecessary scene and three false endings, strangling the piece’s fragile appeal with countless repetitive tropes. Sharpen those pencils…

Designer Richard Turick establishes a pretty, if uninspired, hotel-room setting for the island paradise in which Alex (Tommy Schrider) and Debra (Sarah Knapp) hope to recover from some unspecified marital setback. Although less tangible, Richard Currie’s Crayola-colored lighting design is actually much wittier at conveying the surreal climate of this improbably picturesque island in the impossibly blue Ionian Sea.

But while the sun is shining and the sea beckons, something is clearly off about this idyllic vacation. On day one, Alex, a glib travel writer for a cheapo online vacation magazine, has already been all over the island, sizing up local attractions and staking out the quaintest tavernas and most secluded swimming coves. Debra, however, hasn’t gotten out of bed.

The second hint that something is off in the relationship is that the scene ends with Debra taking out a gun and shooting Alex dead (it’s a fantasy shooting, of course). By day two, Alex has expanded his explorations of the island and brought back foodstuffs to tempt his wife out of bed. But Debra doesn’t budge, and the scene ends with Alex shoving a bread knife between her ribs.

Without actually dropping to his knees and begging for love and understanding, Schrider shrewdly taps into the good-little-boy appeal of Alex’s nebbishy persona. Knapp has a harder time working up sympathy for Debra, whose initially unresponsive and then increasingly hostile responses to Alex’s bright and cheery overtures make her seem an unfeeling bitch.

Happily, Knapp has the vocal skills to turn those muffled grunts and groans into something like musical notes, each one conveying a multitude of strong feelings best left unspoken in polite circles. As Simon drags out the exposition details, it gradually comes out that Debra has good reason for being furious with Alex.

But while thesps sustain a nice comfort level with their characters, both as individuals and marital partners, by day six, we are good and sick of the schematic scene construction that has them shooting, stabbing, strangling or smothering one another after each revelation of Alex’s perfidy. Either helmer Stephen Hollis doesn’t agree, or he wasn’t able to talk the playwright out of his unhealthy attachment to all the repetitive material.

Once Alex’s secret is out, the play cries out for a swift, preferably amusing resolution of the couple’s marital problems. But again, Simon can’t resist repeating himself — to the point of actually staging the scene of adultery we have already heard about and will hear about again. Both Schrider and Kathleen McElfresh, who plays the amoral sexpot who engineers Alex’s seduction, seem excruciatingly uncomfortable in the scene, which should have tipped off somebody that it just wasn’t working.

The multiple false endings play rather better thanks to Schrider and the continually inventive Knapp — but not well enough to take the tedium out of the procedures. Fun is fun; but by the time we are finally allowed to leave this island, even the manically engaged leads seem overjoyed to jump on the boat.

Greek Holiday

June Havoc Theater; 98 seats; $40 top

Production

An Abingdon Theater Company presentation of a play in two acts by Mayo Simon. Directed by Stephen Hollis.

Creative

Set, Richard Turick; costumes, Bettina P. Bierly; lighting, Richard Currie; original music and sound, Scott Killian; production stage manager, Genevieve Ortiz. Opened March 18, 2009. Reviewed March 17. Running time: 1 HOUR, 45 MIN.

Cast

Alex - Tommy Schrider Debra - Sarah Knapp Janet - Kathleen McElfresh
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