Imagine a John Updike novel as a glass of scotch. It's sharp. It's masculine. It's brooding. After some nips of this Updike novel, you will feel eloquent and cultured. You'll feel self-involved, though not always self-assured, and as intoxication takes hold, you'll get libidinous and start pawing at women of limited pride.
Now dilute this Updike novel with nine parts water, and you've got Mid-Strut, by Eric Burns. The play, receiving its world premiere with the Playhouse REP, contains all the somber, solipsistic bravado of a Rabbit novel, but the script is so watered down that it tastes only like septic brine.
The story, in short: Jack Allison is a bland, middle-aged divorcé, and when he's diagnosed with cancer, he resolves to stalk a girl he knew in high school — a girl he barely talked to — and beg her for a pity-fuck.
What follows is a kind of Casanovan fantasy, as envisioned by a weekend warrior with a terminal illness. The only thing worse than this horrifying premise is that Jack is the hero of Mid-Strut. There's a parade of ill-advised clichés, from secret end-of-life letters to a meddling teen-age daughter, which are supposed to make Jack seem respectable and true to his heart. Meanwhile, Burns inserts some banter, to zero effect; the play's moments of humor are so awkward and misplaced, you might forget that this is a play about a man dying of colon cancer.
If you've never heard of Eric Burns, know that he is an insanely accomplished journalist and TV personality. Know also that Mid-Strut, for whatever reason, won the Eudora Welty Emerging Playwrights Award in 2010. The man has enviable credentials, but how Mid-Strut became anything more than a no-budget web series is beyond comprehension. Aside from Burns' peculiar fetish for majorettes, his play is just an overwrought soap opera. Kind of like a lot of Updike.
Director Ronald Allan-Lindblom has assembled a great cast, as usual, including Robert Turano as Jack. But they look boondoggled and bored, because nothing they say makes sense. This is a drama about mortality, dreams, belated love. Mid-Strut? Let's see the full stride.