Playwright Terrence McNally premiered this play in 1991. The story is about two couples struggling with personal and marital issues on their 4th of July weekend. McNally uses Fire Island, a well-known gay vacation hotspot, as the setting for this getaway. As the heterosexual couples soak up the sun, they grapple with their imperfect relationships. And beneath their shortcomings as spouses, they display their real flaws as humans in racism, homophobia, and ignorance about AIDS.
In 1991, I imagine LIPS TOGETHER, TEETH APART was evocative. Homosexual intolerance would have been relatable. This play might have incited conspiratorial whisperings between un-closeted bigots. Nearly twenty-five years later, the underlying anti-gay subject matter still gets emotional response. But it’s one of disgust and for some of us, deep seeded shame for allowing a mob mentality to coerce us at the onset of the epidemic.
Along with McNally’s dated backdrop, the drama isn’t really drama. All the characters and the audience are in on the major secret causing friction between the couples from the get-go. Additional significant disclosure happens in the last prolonged twenty minutes.
Despite story structure issues, I really enjoyed LIPS TOGETHER, TEETH APART for the performances and the comedy. Under the direction of Ted Hoerl, the talented ensemble make their personas distinct. We easily see the lovable and annoying qualities in each. The hilariously overbearing Carin Silkaitis (Chloe) wears me down and wins me over. In Act 1, Silkaitis acts like an exuberant martyr. She is willfully obtuse as she forces food and beverages on the others. Later, I see a glimpse of her vulnerability beneath a thick candy-coated layer of positivity. Her husband, Nathaniel Swift (John) is her weak spot. His pompous facade also gets retracted for sneak peeks into his essences. Swift balances out his sharp rages with these softer moments. He poetically muses about the shades of happiness. And at one point, he flies a kite with the spirit of a ten year old.
Besides marital coupling, there is also a loving sibling bond between Silkaitis and Dennis Grimes (Sam). Their crass relationship, he chases her with a snake, she wants to see his penis, has the most depth and certainty. They regularly boast of an extensive understanding of the other. It’s surprisingly sweet. The macho Grimes swaggers with a protective burliness for his sister and his fragile wife, Kristin Collins (Sally). Yet, it’s Grimes that needs to be rescued from splinters and brutes by Collins. Collins impressively goes the emotional spectrum. She ruminates over her painting, her marriage, her brother and a stranger swimming in the ocean. She becomes completely unhinged in different ways. On the phone, she goes creepy dark in storytelling to children. In the pool, she impulsively makes out with her husband. On the stairs, she weeps over her conditional ability to love. Collins delivers a complex and poignant performance.
Hoerl facilitates an ongoing quandary in LIPS TOGETHER, TEETH APART. I spent the entire duration of the play deciding the fates of these couples. Should they stay together? Or should they be apart? And by the conclusion, I had my own conclusion. Despite McNally’s story problems, I’d recommend spending the 4th with these couples to come to your own conclusion.
And special nod out to Scenic Designer Kevin Hagan for his extraordinary beach house. I’d like to rent it for Memorial Day Weekend.
Running Time: Two hours and forty-five minutes includes two intermissions
At Athenaeum Theatre, 2936 N. Southport Ave.
Written by Terrence McNally
Directed by Ted Hoerl
Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m.
Sundays at 2 p.m.
Thru May 24th
Buy Tickets at www.eclipsetheatre.com
Photo by Scott Dray
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