Has the coronavirus shut down provided you with more time alone with the one you love? Has it made you consider social distancing from this special someone? Have you wondered how therapy would work in the age of COVID-19? Burlington County Footlighters presented the answer. Directors Cynthia Debor Conley and Wayne Renbjor led a stellar cast through Sean Grennan’s comic take on counseling: Couples. Your correspondent attended the July 22nd premeire.
Dr. Sharon Mercer (played by Jillian Starr-Renbjor) conducted her fourth on-line session with three couples going through trial separations. Judging from these characters’ personalities, they made the right decisions in seeking professional help. Nevin’s (Tim Sagges) refusal to accept he’d become a middle-aged man strained his wife Barbara’s (Lisa Croce) patience with him. The pressures of parenthood eliminated all the romance from Sally’s (MacKenzie Smith) and Faith’s (Shaina Egan) relationship. Cynthia (Jeanne Wayman) felt that her husband Thomas (Tom Stone) didn’t spend enough time with her. In fact, he didn’t even arrive for the session until it had ended.
These clients challenged Dr. Mercer’s skills. After a creative vocal warm-up exercise well enacted by Ms. Starr- Renbjor, the doctor got to work. For the first project, she asked the couples to have a “date night.” For the show’s second act, Dr. Mercer instructed the pairs to spend a month apart from one another. Perhaps as an homage to the television show Love Connection, both members of the couple remained on screen while one described their “date.”
Lisa Croce and Tim Sagges played the most colorful pair. The two performers made a superb comedy team.
The playwright provided these performers with ample material to display their humorous prowess. Mr. Sagges delivered the clever play on words, “no output, but good putout” with aplomb. He displayed subdued reactions to his wife’s criticisms that he tried acting like a much younger man. They added an excellent contrast to Ms. Croce’s shouting.
Ms. Croce’s zingers included an emphatic criticism of his using the word dude. She became even more heated while describing his new tattoo: an eagle on a Harley while wearing a cowboy hat. She referred to a 25-year old woman as having “granddaddy issues” for placing her arm around Nevin. She also expressed the show’s wittiest simile: “Age like a Mac Truck full of flaming cement.”
Ms. Croce showed her dramatic skills, also. The performer delivered two moving monologs concerning life lessons learned from a dying friend.
Mr. Sagges used excellent costuming to enhance his character. He employed a pork pie hat during the first act. For the second, he wore a traditional business suit.
MacKenzie Smith and Shaina Egan are both expressive performers. They worked well opposite one another.
Ms. Smith played the mellower role. However, she showed her character to be multi-dimensional. Ms. Smith drew upon powerful emotions when discussing the relief she felt during a four -minute period when she didn’t have to do anything.
Shaina Egan portrayed an edgier character. She used the universal signal when showing a gesture to get someone’s attention. Ms. Egan gagged while Mr. Sagges described his marriage. The performer then showed the character’s vulnerable side. Ms. Egan added heart when discussing her relationship.
Referring to the characters Jeanne Wayman and Tom Stone played as a “couple,” would be questionable. Ms. Wayman played the timid half of a fracturing marriage. She transitioned well into a more assertive (and intoxicated) figure as the play progressed.
Tom Stone portrayed a distant man who put his career ahead of his wife. Even though playing an unlikable character, Mr. Stone still make the role funny. He asked his spouse, “Have you seen your closet? Amelda Marcos would be embarrassed.”
The story contained some creative plot twists. Without giving away any spoilers, the cast made them seem both unexpected and inevitable.
The video platform allowed all the actors to remain on-screen the entire show. This simulated the environment of an actual on-line therapy session. The format required each performer to react as though listening to the speaker’s comments. One has to credit all the actors for doing so consistently throughout the entire show.
Ms. Starr-Renbjor’s character expressed the following relationship advice: “Surrender. Give yourself. Lose yourself.” Thanks to the cast, production team and a clever playwright, the audience did the same during Burlington County Footlighters’ performance of Couples.