The Argument

For something so light on content and devoid of action, this character-driven play delivers beaucoup drama in the conflict department. As title says, focus of talky but intelligent piece is an argument -- and it's a doozy -- between a man and a woman deeply committed to their loving relationship but just as deeply divided over the abortion that she wants and he adamantly does not.

With:
Sophie - Melissa Leo Phillip - Jay O. Sanders Herb - John Rothman

For something so light on content and devoid of action, this character-driven play delivers beaucoup drama in the conflict department. As title says, focus of talky but intelligent piece is an argument — and it’s a doozy — between a man and a woman deeply committed to their loving relationship but just as deeply divided over the abortion that she wants and he adamantly does not. Super-pro perfs from Melissa Leo and Jay O. Sanders wring sympathy for these mature lovers as they obsessively dissect the nature (and the limits) of their contract to love, cherish and hopefully not kill one another.

There is something brave and rather admirable about solitary strangers of a certain age (she’s 42, he’s 49) who dare to bare themselves to the punishing demands of a serious relationship. Alexandra Gersten-Vassilaros (“Omnium Gatherum”) acknowledges that courage when she has her lovers jumping into bed after meeting for the first time at a party. But she doesn’t make it easy for them, either.

Sophie (Leo) is a relatively successful painter with bigger ambitions; Phillip (Sanders) is a big bear of a guy who’s doing OK as a commodities trader. Although no mental giants, they are not shallow, and there is something charming about the delight they take in exploring one another.

But as revealed in amusing and poignant pillow talk, there is also a kind of adolescent awkwardness to their coupling that suggests how vulnerable they are.

In sharply pointed scenes depicting different stages in their deepening relationship, scribe takes care to keep her characters in perfect balance. She’s the one with the intelligence and drive, He’s the comfy homebody. But she buys a refrigerator and fusses about feeding him, and he develops an aesthetic and learns how to express his feelings. Say what you will about the attraction of opposites — these two seem to fit together.

Leo and Sanders handle the pair with real tenderness in Maria Mileaf’s well-pitched production. The savvy designers use a light touch to show the funny little ways in which the couple’s lives become increasingly entwined (Neil Patel has fun dressing the bed). Right up to the time that they go into couples counseling — in a hilarious but poignant scene in which they steamroll over John Rothman as their hapless counselor — you really think these two are going to make it.

The play doesn’t exactly turn dark during the high-energy argument in which Sophie and Phillip slug it out over the abortion that will, one way or the other, destroy the delicate balance of their relationship. Their love is too palpable for total darkness to descend on these two — and that, in the end, is what makes both the play and its production worthwhile.

No matter how bitter their words, Gersten-Vassilaros manages to convey with utter conviction the depth of these characters’ affection. Even (or perhaps especially) when they are not speaking or touching, Leo and Sanders have a way of staring into each other’s eyes and making us believe in their connection.

For some auds, that’s enough to touch a chord.

The Argument

Vineyard Theater; 125 seats; $50 top

Production: A Vineyard Theater presentation of a play in one act by Alexandra Gersten-Vassilaros. Directed by Maria Mileaf.

Creative: Sets, Neil Patel; costumes, Katherine Roth; lighting, David Lander; original music and sound, Obadiah Eaves; production stage manager, Christine Lemme. Opened, reviewed May 25, 2005. Running time: 1 HOUR, 30 MIN.

Cast: Sophie - Melissa Leo Phillip - Jay O. Sanders Herb - John Rothman

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