Jeffrey Sweet’s new work is solid, craftsmanlike playwriting at its finest. “With and Without” isn’t an ambitious piece likely to make a major mark in the theatrical world, but for a little more than 90 intermissionless minutes, Sweet’s somewhat old-fashioned play deftly explores the tricky, often unpleasant dynamics of that demanding relationship known as marriage.
The story focuses on two reasonably sophisticated couples who every year rent a cottage on a lake, presumably to get away from their harried lives in the big city. But as the curtain rises on “With and Without,” it appears this vacation won’t be as peaceful as previous ones.
One couple, Shelly (Linnea Todd) and Mark (James Sherman), have arrived at the cottage. So has Jill (Annabel Armour), but she is upset because her husband, Russ, hasn’t. She is convinced he is off “boffing” another woman, but Mark, who dated Jill in college, urges her not to overreact. His dramatic situation established, playwright Sweet gently begins to examine the uneasy circumstances of Jill’s marriage. By comparison, Shelly and Mark seem to have figured out how to remain a couple despite the inevitable conflicts that have arisen over time.
Convinced her marriage is near its end, Jill goes into town to rent a video and winds up picking up Glen (Marc Vann), a divorced carpenter fighting the same loneliness Jill feels. In a beautifully written scene set on the cottage porch, Jill and Glen reach out to each other in a moment of emotional vulnerability. Finally, Jill and Glen are allowed only that moment together, but along with some encouragement from Shelly and Mark, it is enough to give Jill the strength to at least try to resolve her marital problems.
Sandy Shinner’s sure, unfussy direction enhances Sweet’s script every step of the way. Shinner coaxes thoughtful performances from her entire cast, particularly Vann, who is instantly believable and moving as the carpenter Glen.
Bill Bartelt’s log cabin provides a cozy backdrop for the action. Chris Phillip’s warm lighting looks fine, as does Margaret Morettini’s casual, country attire.