Comedy with Bite 

Weekend in paradise turns to hell

The thought-provoking play, Lips Together, Teeth Apart, is running for one more weekend at the new Spontaneous Productions' venue, the fascinating Visual Arts Collective in Boise's Linen District. This multi-purpose building has unique art and pottery displays, which lend a delightful aura to the theater experience.

Lips Together is by Terrence McNally, an award-winning playwright who has frequently depicted homosexuality with great wit and considerable sympathy. McNally won Tony awards for Kiss of the Spider Woman, Love! Valour! Compassion! and Ragtime. His play The Lisbon Traviata was produced by Spontaneous two years ago.

However, in Lips Together, Teeth Apart, the gay theme is strictly peripheral, mainly in references to the deceased brother of principal character Sally, and the unseen neighbors on both sides of Sally's beach house. The cast consists of two married couples plunked down in the middle of the notorious gay community on New York's Fire Island. Sally inherited the luxurious home from her brother, who died of AIDS. As the play progresses, the characters' fear of contracting AIDS mingles with the couples' anguish over a barely concealed extramarital affair between Sally and John, a terminal illness other than AIDS, psychological dreads, a local drowning, and unpleasant competition and loathing between the two brothers-in-law that leads to a nasty brawl.

Director Larry Dennis also designed the clever, skeletal set which skillfully implies the elegance of the house and pool. His approach to the action of the play feels melancholy and introspective, and needs a bit faster pacing at the beginning to involve the audience with the cast and the storyline. In the script, the characters fail to interact with each other, stare abstractedly into space, ignore conversations and generally seem like a mismatched bunch. It all makes you wonder why Sally invited her husband Sam's hyperactive sister, Chloe, and her moody husband, John, to spend the 4th of July weekend with them.

But theater-goers will be glad she did, because Jenny Newbry Waters as Chloe brings fun and sparkling life to the initially rather listless group. Waters is superb as the scatter-brained theater-obsessed woman whose neurotic babbling eventually reveals her own insecurities and touching vulnerability. She makes Chloe as lovable as she is annoying, as she dances and bursts into songs from various musicals. Her description of the scenic locale as "paradise" has an ironic twist when the weekend dissolves into more hellish moments than heavenly happiness.

Sam is robustly played by Jeremy Swedelius with a macho swagger and thinly disguised homophobic attitude. Husky Swedelius creates the perfect contrast to Justin Boyer's haughty, snide characterization of the lean, "superior" and intellectual John. But Sam's earthiness and irrational fear of parenthood make him a strange match for Melina Marx as Sally, a moody, broody artist who seems to live in her own world of symbols and needs a strong man to keep her connected to real life.

Boyer manages to transmit the strange, alienated feelings of John, who is facing his own mortality in his own way, but nothing he can do as an actor will change the fact that John is an unpleasant and selfish man who cheats on his wife and ignores the needs of others.

Although the theater is small, the actors need better projection to make sure the clever banter and crucial dialogue are heard. The playwright keeps you wondering about the meaning of the play's strange title until the third act, and even when it is revealed, you are still trying to figure out its significance. Or is he simply saying all four of the characters are as insignificant as bugs, playing out their sad, troubled lives and waiting to be zapped? This is the fascinating side of this play: It can mean widely different things to different people.

Lips Together, Teeth Apart, presented by Spontaneous Productions. 8 p.m. Thur.-Sat., Visual Arts Collective, 1409 Grove St. Contains adult content. Tickets $15 general; $20 reserved table seating.

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