In Act One these two could have been just about any unhappily married couple hitting its midlife crisis. The playwright initially confuses quirks (her off-key voice, his clumsiness) with personality traits, giving us sketchy character portraits. Act Two is more engaging because we find out more about Harry's and Thelma's real fears, desires, thoughts, and emotions. This solid if belated foundation provides the jumping-off point for more -- and better -- laughs. In one hilarious monologue, Harry explains the bloody nose that he got on the "existential tennis court" while acting out a Billie Jean King fantasy with Choo Choo. Fortunately this character-driven brand of humor predominates in the second half of the play, making the comedy much more appealing and enjoyable.
At intermission an elderly gentleman sitting next to me motioned toward the stage and said, "That's the story of my life up there -- 53 years of marriage." Another man shuffled by, squeezed his wife's shoulder, and teased her: "Who does that Thelma remind you of?" He looked at our group and added with a wink: "And to top it all off, her name is Thelma." He winked again just in case we didn't get it. It occurred to me that these theatergoers were bowled over not only by the fact that the stage imitates life but more importantly because it imitates their lives.
Jessica Peterson and Bruce Laks laugh off that first night
Through May 13. 954-922-0404.
Hollywood Playhouse, 2640 Washington St, Hollywood
For the hundredth time since the show began, I ran down my mental checklist of things that distinguish art from entertainment: Art makes you think. Entertainment asks that you don't think. Art sets the visual imagination into motion. Entertainment paints the picture for you so that reaching after metaphors and making leaps of the imagination is unnecessary. I realize there's one new criterion I can add to my list that may be the definitive one: Entertainment somehow provokes you to want to wink at your fellow theatergoers during intermission. What the hell, I wink back.