Encore Michigan

Tibbits’ ‘Mixed Emotions’ seems stodgy and dated

Review June 16, 2018 Marin Heinritz

COLDWATER, Mich.–A relatively simply-staged play with a small cast generally opens Tibbits’ Summer Theatre season, and Richard Baer’s Mixed Emotions fits that particular bill—with a cast of four and no set changes in two acts.

But it’s a wonder why they chose it.

Since the play was first produced in 1993, there haven’t been mixed emotions about it at all. It’s been universally panned. It seems no matter the city, no matter the time, no matter the production quality, no measure of skill or talent can overcome the predictable, colorless, one-note script. And it’s no different at Tibbits, though the situation may be more implausible and offensive at this particular cultural moment.

Lady-who-lunches Christine and successful carpet salesman Herman are both fairly recently widowed well-to-do Manhattan dwellers in their 60s who’ve moved in the same circles for much of their lives. She’s decided to retire to Florida, and he drops by on moving day to convince her to stay. Because he wants to sleep with her. Heck, maybe even marry her. It’s practical in a financial sense if nothing else. The problem is he’s a terrible kvetch and they really can’t stand each other. But the moment the stakes and obstacles become evident is the moment we all know how it’s going to resolve. What we don’t know in that moment is how uninteresting the journey from point A to point B will be.

But we have a hunch. There are clues in the amateurish writing. The way the two banter about the past, retelling stories they both know solely for the purpose of delivering information to the audience. The way the two young movers appear solely to interrupt embarrassing sex talk. The way characters emerge as gendered and religious stereotypes.

And watching a woman say no over and over only for the man to try and push and change tactics and ultimately manipulate her into relenting couldn’t have been all that funny in 1993. It certainly doesn’t play well in a post #metoo 2018.

However, the Tibbits production has its moments. Peter Stewart as Herman and Debbie Culver as Christine really connect at times—she oozes warmth and he nails the anxious sales-guy schtick. Despite her odd pauses in the middle of sentences and his delivering lines as if he were announcing a ballgame, they shine in scene work such as a seemingly impromptu living room song and dance. Though Director Suzanne Marie Ogden’s blocking is fairly uninspired, with the actors talking to each other upstage, then downstage right, then on the couch, it’s when they move together with motivation they most genuinely come alive.

Again, this is largely a script issue. And the actors, including David Ossman as Ralph and Nicolas Fernandez as Chuck as the energetic and sometimes funny movers, do the best they can with what little they have.

Technically the show is sound, and it’s always a treat to see a show in the acoustically perfect and beautiful historic Tibbits Opera House. Johnmichael Bohach’s set is an attractive facsimile of a late 1980s Upper West Side apartment; Catie Blencowe’s lights, including sconces on the walls, are effective; Marc W. Vital II’s costumes for Christine are strangely formal and ornate, but suit the period.

Too bad all the hard work went into a script that’s mediocre at best and irredeemable at worst. The stories of how lonely seniors move forward in the second or maybe third acts of their lives is rich with possibility and deserve to be explored honestly. And talented artists deserve better material. Anything less should be put out to pasture.

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