The most dramatic moment of your average wedding is that part where the priest, or whoever is presiding, asks whether anyone objects to the impending vows. "Speak now or forever hold your peace" prompts a long moment of sidelong glances and swiveling heads. It also gives locally based playwright Robert Isenberg the title of his latest play, whose premiere is presented by Duquesne University's Red Masquers.
The uncredited set design is more than slightly reminiscent of countless productions of Noel Coward's Private Lives. And indeed, after some comic, if not crisp, banter, Isenberg (who's also a regular CP contributor) presents us with two long-estranged lovers. The play, meanwhile, veers from lightweight to a darker shade of romance, even mystery, with plot twists that I cannot reveal. Alas, this promising tale is muddled by credibility problems, most notably a serious misunderstanding of estate law underlying the backstory.
Director John E. Lane Jr. doesn't have a finished play to polish, but he copes with what's available. The characters tend to be underdrawn. We are constantly told how wonderful the heroine is but, despite the valiant portrayal by Becca Hosier, we see no evidence. As her best friend and a silly stereotype of a scientist, Leigh Johnson becomes as charming as an enthusiastic puppy once she stops braying like a donkey. T.J. Firneno is good at projecting the emotional numbness of the onetime suitor with an unlikely past.
The odd man out in the romantic triangle is a bundle of contradictions -- stupid, shrewd, appreciative, vindictive, etc. -- that are not quite tied together by Jacob Wadsworth as the heroine's fiancé. The only really sympathetic character is the comic-relief waiter, with actor Michael Clark avoiding buffoonery.
In its portrayal of romantic desperation and betrayal, there are possibilities in Speak Now, and the ending is most effective in its bleakness. But details matter, and the play's current version has too many fuzzy ones.
SPEAK NOW continues through Sat., April 16. Peter Mills Theater, Rockwell Hall, Duquesne University. 412-396-4997