Minuets are often considered stately, polite, orderly, genteel. Such traditional couplings and uncouplings resonate with bygone days, days when people never screwed around. I beg your pardon. I meant days when people remained sincerely, devotedly, utterly faithful to spouses.
Are you kidding? Playwright David Wiltse is. In his A Marriage Minuet, now gyrating in its local premiere, at City Theatre, we may laugh heartily, uproariously and ceaselessly, but if we've ever been married, just beneath our rustling underclothes we may recognize ourselves. And even if we are happily married ... as some of us are ... we may get titillated. (Excuse the bodily reference.)
Do I seem verbose and loquacious, reveling in synonyms and similes? Douglas Zweig certainly does. He's a published but unsuccessful novelist and an innocent but acerbic lecturer on morality whose supportive wife, Lily, decides to enlighten about how women flirt. Meanwhile, their friends Rex, who cooks up hot-selling, potboiling novels, and his frustrated wife, Violet (who has been shrinking for some time), alter the previously restrained sexual dynamics among the four. Add a few unattached young women peeling on and off.
Don't worry. Or, conversely, don't get your hopes up. There is no full-frontal nudity. Not even suggestions of peeping parts. And Wiltse is not exposing the private lives of swingers: He's probing marital liaisons under the strains of maintaining devout vows. These characters fall all over themselves, or on each other, without knowing where they're heading. They may not even know enough about themselves.
But Wiltse knows a lot about men and women and about couples. And he knows a lot about what's funny. One original touch has characters generically summarizing their own dialogue: "Ingratiating chit-chat," says Rex to a potential lay. "Total lack of interest," she responds. Too, witness the super scene-titles projected above the stage, nudge nudge wink wink. Catch how Rex finds joy in his own foolishness. Hear Douglas invent clever ways to say things. Or notice how Lily opens her petals and how Violet glows in the darkness.
Ross Bickell's jolly enthusiasm and vitality rule as Rex. Helena Routi's Lily blossoms and blooms. Tami Dixon's take on the "other women" can cause belly laughs. Douglas Rees and Deirdre Madigan wonderfully repeat the roles of Douglas and Violet, previously polished in performances in Westport, Conn.
Director Tracy Brigden was up there, too, and has staged this delight to a fare-thee-well.
Trip the light fantastic.
A Marriage Minuet continues through May 25. City Theatre, 1300 Bingham St., South Side. 412-431-2489 or www.citytheatrecompany.org
- Pas de deux (or more): Ross Bickell (left) and Tami Dixon in City Theatre's A Marriage Minuet.