TWO LIP TANGO
by Mercedes Baines
La Luna Productions
Watching Two Lip Tango, a series of 21 discrete theatrical scenarios on the subject of love and relationships, I had what might have been either a revelation about love and relationships or an observation about Mercedes Baines’ playwriting.
It was this: how difficult it can be to distinguish ripe parody from sincere, heartfelt commentary on those most crucial, most universal, most cliché-ridden topics.
Here’s a quiz. Which of the following lines comes from a broadly parodic skit about a cheesy reality TV show called Get Real Relationships, and which two are meant to be taken seriously: a) I fell in love with you because you smelled of lemons. b) I lovingly accept who I am because I am loved. c) It takes courage to stay; it takes courage to leave.
You can get the answer at the end of this review.
This material is notoriously difficult because confessional relationship-speak is so commonplace in popular culture where, depending on your point of view, Oprah and Dr. Phil are either prophets or a ridiculous joke, and where love poetry is usually found on Hallmark greeting cards.
Because Baines’ writing is not especially original except in a few places, the staging and performance of the material determine whether or not it transcends the clichés, and here she proves herself a better director than playwright.
The short scenes vary from individual monologues, to two- or three-character mini-dramas, to ensemble pieces like the talk show skit. They flow together effectively on the open stage in front of a huge painting of a gorgeous purple tulip, moodily lit by John Popkin, and driven by Ron Samworth’s bluesy, jazzy, bossa nova-esque score.
Some of the best sequences are wordless as the three women and two men dance a version of tango to Samworth’s cool music, changing partners or dancing alone, miming their yearning for attention and connection, all nicely choreographed by Nicole Mion.
Each performer grabs the opportunity to star in a monologue where most of the best writing is found. Marco Soriano is particularly strong, showing real range from his funny, straightforward narrative about falling in love to his smarmy TV host. Louis Chirillo tells a good story about a night at the prom, Melanie Yeats is poignant as a lonely woman who looks forward to solicitors’ phone calls, and Yvonne Myers does a lovely job conveying the matter-of-fact private life of a lap dancer. Effective throughout the show, Cory Philley overcomes some clumsy writing to make a young woman’s monologue about her distant, patriarchal father genuinely affecting.
And the answer to the quiz: b) is the joke. The other lines are serious.