Quantum's 'Mouth to Mouth' packs a punch

Stage Review

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Stage time is miraculous stuff. Kevin Elyot's "Mouth to Mouth" takes Quantum Theatre 80 intermissionless minutes to perform, but it covers a momentous year in the lives of two brothers, their wives, one son and a self-effacing friend named Frank -- which is what, on the whole, he is not.

He certainly tries. In Scene 1, we see Frank prepare to confess something to his friend Laura, whose silence gives him no encouragement. In Scene 2, set at a trendy restaurant the day before, he gets little further with a distracted doctor who is treating him for what we assume are AIDS-related symptoms.

Frank wants to confess what happened at Laura's party a year before. Scenes 3, 4 and 5 take us back to that time, where we meet Laura's husband, Dennis; Dennis' brother, Roger, and young wife; and the son, Phillip. Amid inconsequential chatter, much happens, but we still have to learn just what.

Then in Scene 6, a continuation of 2, Frank still fails to confide in his doctor friend but determines he will tell Laura the next day. The final scene brings us back where we began. When Laura speaks, we realize she's suffering from trauma and learn why. Frank overhears a surprise revelation, and in a delicate final moment he and Laura share confidences, leaving Frank to decide what to do with his confession.

'Mouth to Mouth'
  • Where: Quantum Theatre at 121 Seventh St. (next to Bossa Nova), Cultural District, Downtown
  • When: Through Feb. 22. Wed.-Sat. 8 p.m.; Sun. 7 p.m.
  • Tickets: $25-$35
  • More information: 412-394-3353 or quantumtheatre.com

As I say, these 80 minutes contain a world of baffled humanity. To my surprise, a friend told me later it was the most understandable Quantum play she'd seen. If she meant most realistic and accessible, she needs to give herself more credit, because the plot clues and emotional twists aren't that easy to follow.

Or maybe (generalization alert!), this is a play women will understand more readily than men, being more attuned to interpersonal nuance. Besides that, I may have been handicapped by having seen the play seven years ago in London, thus thinking I knew it already and being less open to telling details.

However insightful you may be, there's plenty of humor, not just in the self-obsessed doctor and social awkwardness of the party, but in the gentler comedy of insecurity and how we reveal our frailties. But "Mouth to Mouth" is also a touching account of individual loneliness and the fragility of happiness. If tragedy is possible nowadays, this is one form it takes.

The direction by Ron Lindblom is understanding and compassionate. Although I don't find the emotional twists as clear as I think I should, you wouldn't want them to be too clear, because Elyot knows life remains a puzzle we cannot solve.

He sets huge challenges to the actors. Frank is so self-effacing that at times he hardly seems to exist, one of those neutral presences who vivid people embrace as friends because they make good audiences, but who get slighted when it should be their turn for attention. How can they complain, when they've accepted acolyte status all along? Ken Bolden does all this well. But Frank is not so self-effacing as he seems, and I wish Bolden gave us more of that depth.

Quantum artistic director Karla Boos plays Laura with a full measure of maternal possessiveness, extending even to hints of sexual obsession (Laura has a history of fondness for younger men), somewhat softened by the comedy of her social awkwardness. But I would like to see more of Laura's charisma, as well.

The supporting roles, all significant, are skillfully played. James FitzGerald is a bit over the top as the dope-snorting doctor, but he certainly is funny. Robyne Parrish is more in scale as the comic but more sympathetic young wife.

The three others couldn't be bettered: John Shepard is perfectly in scale as Laura's hapless husband, Jeffrey Carpenter realizes both the robust bonhomie and suppressed sensitivity of Roger, and Eric Anderson has the right innocent charm as the son.

As usual, Quantum has found an impressive location, with Tony Ferrieri's set looking out on the lights of Downtown Pittsburgh. The implication of loft-like sophistication isn't what the script specifies, but it serves the play well enough.

"Mouth to Mouth" is a delicate comi-tragedy with Pinter-like enigma. How amusing that Pinter is one of the celebrities the doctor spots as he should be listening to Frank.

Post-Gazette senior theater critic Christopher Rawson can be reached at crawson@post-gazette.com .


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