By Monique Jones
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Edge Theatre is known for occasional unorthodox performances with stripped-down acting ensembles showcased in small venues across the city. Its unofficial motto is "have stage, will travel," and productions are hit or miss, depending on the cast.
But the ensemble's current production of The Pattern and The Problem, two one-act comedies directed by Jim Tommaney and performed on the theater's own stage in the heart of Miami's Design District, manages to strike the right chord. The short plays are not archetypical love stories. And that's a good thing.
A not-so-subtle kick at the Twilight series of books and films, The Pattern, written by Brian Harris, tells the tale of Sunny and her beau, the enigmatic Sergei, and their ongoing blood-related relationship woes. The Problem, penned by A.R. Gurney, showcases an off-kilter couple's long and strange road to parenthood.
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The last was a marital exploration of the absurd. The professorial husband, hilariously played by Robert Ramos, is preparing for a class lecture when his wife, charmingly played by Samantha Newman, reveals that she is a full-blown nine months pregnant (he hadn't noticed). Complicating things further, she reveals — much to his spaced-out astonishment — that they have not been intimate for five years. That leads to the couple's attempt to trace the exact point at which the missus got knocked up, wondering how it could have happened.
The tale took several comical, unexpected turns as it chronicled the couple's ten-year marriage and sex life. The script is bold, if not a bit eccentric, but that's the point. At times, the story delved past comfort zones, as when the wife explores the possibility she may have slept with either an African American man or her husband in blackface. There were no shortages of WTF moments in The Problem, and while the climax pulled the ludicrous story together, the journey got a tad weird.
The Problem is the weaker script of the two productions but featured better performances. As the husband, Ramos was hilariously obtuse and absent-minded in a Steven Coogan kind of way, while Ms. Newman towed the fine line between devoted housewife and possible adulteress to comical results.
The Pattern also explored a rocky relationship, this one far more complicated than most. After dating a boy named Sergei for 218 days, a young girl named Sunny ponders whether he is the one. Problem is, Sergei's a 1,500-year-old vampire and must bite his mate and suck her blood by the 219th day of having met her if she is to become a vampire as well.
Sunny seeks professional advice on whether she should go for it or not and addresses her history of bad relationships with weirdos. For the most part, The Pattern explores Sunny's ongoing troubles through a series of monologues. Although she's cute, Sunny's also a tad chatty (think Kelly Kapoor from The Office meets Carrie from Sex and the City).
The play didn't feature any real comic gags or punch lines until the very end, but the story was humorous enough to keep the audience enthralled. And there were moments when a line hit home, such as when Sunny revealed to the doctor that her lover is a vampire. "This is so embarrassing," the otherwise silent, stoic, and chilling Sergei exclaimed.
As the story began to conclude, the audience pieced Sunny's misadventures together and found a pattern hidden all along. While the payoff was great, the acting in The Pattern was less satisfying. What it needed were more extroverted performances, particularly from the young couple. The supernatural story would have worked if the actors weren't so reticent in their delivery. These are strong characters with a comical problem, and they deserve more buoyant performances from the cast. The acting wasn't bad — just subdued.
While Matthew Patrick Donovan was perfectly cast as Sergei the vampire, at times he was stiff with his lines. Jody Owen put in a robust performance as the doctor who tried to help the couple. He was convincing as a capable psychiatrist who seemed to be masking a problem of his own.
Meanwhile, Liz Barrientos was adequate as Sunny, but needed more practice. Sunny is, after all, a coquettish chatty girl you root for but often find annoying. Sunny is the punch line of that play, and Ms. Barrientos was well cast. She just needed to sink her teeth more into the role.
Unorthodox takes on usual boy-meets-girl fare, both Edge Theatre productions take a weird and humorous turn at their climaxes. They provide good, light comedic entertainment just in time for Valentine's Day weekend.