Theatre in Baltimore is generally seen as either the touring shows at the Hippodrome, the often larger than life plays at Centerstage, or the more reserved plays at Everyman giving it the distinction of being the city’s “other” regional playhouse. These plays may be more grounded, but their quality is generally such that even a misfire can still land somewhere near it’s target.
The press release for their latest play, Fifty Words, describes it as “exploration of a modern marriage,” but the plot has more in common with the 2006 Vince Vaughn-Jennifer Anniston vehicle The Break-Up. This is especially bad since the actual marriage being portrayed seems more like a truncated season of John & Kate Plus 8 (and we all know how that turned out), between her catty emasculation of her husband and his obnoxiously sarcasm, the only person we feel any sympathy for at the end of the play was their (unseen) son Greg.
Like Shooting Star before it, the problem here isn’t the actors who both do a fine job with the material they are given. The problem as stated above is the episodic nature of the couple’s (Meghan Anderson and Clinton Branhagen) many fights that escalate and de-escalate over the course of their first night alone in almost nine years. The play is quite intricately plotted, but there were still a few moments when I found myself saying “what?” and just when you think they’ve had enough fighting for one night, one of them would invariably say “one more thing” and the cycle begins anew.
I have to give special praise to Timothy Mackabee for the incredibly detailed set from the mismatched chairs dining room chairs to the children’s toys stuffed in a shelf in the dining room giving the set a lived-in feeling (though why would they still have a corded phone in 2009?). My favorite detail was Jay A. Herzog’s use of the ceiling lights (a rarity in theatre), and how they were wired so that the actors could supposedly control the lighting level on the set. The only technical problem I had with the show was the overly loud “dramatic” music pumped into the theatre during certain key scenes (though to be fair, this was a preview performance so the volume will probably be fixed by the time you read this).
If you enjoy watching two self-absorbed people shout at each other for nearly two hours (without an intermission), or just want to relive the “glory days” of reality programming on TLC than this is the play for you. If not, as John Waters famously said: “there’s always Centerstage.”
Fifty Words is playing at Everyman Theatre, 1727 N. Charles St in Baltimore through February 19th. Tickets are $35 for weekday performances, $45 on weekends. ** ½ out of *****