Friday, May 9, 2003

Living and loving well: Choosing An Infinite Ache

Published in the Portland Phoenix

If " marriage is what brings us together today, " in the words of the Princess Bride minister, it can also be what drives us apart tomorrow. The mooring lines of love, affection, and attraction that cause people to merge their lives can loosen, if untended, allowing the ship of life to run aground.

In the waning moments of a brutally difficult evening out — seen by the young man as a first date and by the young woman as a favor to a friend-of-a-friend who is new in town — a vision appears. What if, instead of an exit with a promise to " call you sometime, " a person who has drunk too much didn’t walk out of your life forever, but, instead, became your life’s partner? So begins An Infinite Ache, penned by a 29-year-old man in the throes of unrequited love. The brilliantly written script looks forward into the imagined future and sees Charles (Pierre-Marc Diennet) and Hope (Ann Hu) as their lives and loves develop and change, all the way through grandparenthood and Hope’s death.

Committed couples — and those considering lifelong partnership — will find themselves, and perhaps a glimpse of the future, in these characters.

It is up to the actors, working with a single set location and little off-stage time for costume changes, to unlock the power and wisdom in the play, and Hu and Diennet do so powerfully. To make the point that minutes can represent weeks, even decades, watches and clocks are taken off, put away, and left entirely alone until the play’s end. Even a repeatedly missing camera reinforces the inability one has to tangibly capture any particular moment.

Hu and Diennet carry well the challenging script’s rapid changes in plot and emotion. Hesitancy about cohabitation and marriage morphs into proposal, and rejection is followed by acceptance, marriage, and a baby. Life takes its terrible and dreadful course, as well as its pleasant and joyful one, and the couple endures tragedy, child-rearing, infidelity, divorce, reconciliation, sickness, and death.

Themselves young, if accomplished, actors, Hu and Diennet impart a wisdom greater than their years as a fight over laundry becomes an announcement of unexpected pregnancy and deep emotions bubble to the surface, dreams and hopes of youth clashing with the responsibilities of adulthood.

Watch for a fight they have while she packs to move out. It quickly transforms into her unpacking the suitcase instead. Here, Charles’s impassioned speeches, answered by Hope’s wordless changes of action and meaning, are bolstered by excellent stage management, making sure all the props are in the right place at the right time.

As the two age and grow in Charles’s imagination, the deepest elements of the two characters are exposed, culminating in abrupt and frank true confessions of realizations that only slowly dawn on the members of any real-life partnership as it matures. It is a play, and a performance, that brings forward the pressing issues of love and commitment, which are simultaneously under siege and triumphant in today’s world. The anguish and pain are as visible as the happiness and joy, and the limits of the Yiddish word " bashert " — fated or meant to be — are tested by the firm independence of two people who badly long for each other.

The lessons they learn and articulate are lasting ones: Always communicate, even if it’s a small thing; be honest, even if it hurts; and sometimes partners must agree to disagree and move on. The ultimate lesson? That the choice to spend time and share a life with another is a choice made wholly of love.

An Infinite Ache
Written by David Schulner. Directed by Janet Mitchko. With Ann Hu and Pierre-Marc Diennet. At The Public Theatre, through May 11. Call (207) 782-3200.

BACKSTAGE

Winter Harbor Theater’s first show went off very well at the St. Lawrence April 28 through 30, with a scene from Tony Kushner’s yet-to-be-finished Only We Who Guard the Mystery Shall be Unhappy, performed by Tavia Lin Gilbert and Stephen McLaughlin. Gilbert played a convincing and powerful Laura Bush, visiting a group of Iraqi children killed by American bombs. Slowly self-destructing as she comes to terms with the effects of US policy on the kids, she turns her husband forward and back through the lens of Dostoevsky’s The Grand Inquisitor, in which evil and good are flip-flopped and eventually left intertwined. It was a masterful piece, a strong performance, and a promising beginning for the theater company, whose goal is to challenge people — including themselves — intellectually and emotionally.

• New Hampshire Artist Laureate Marguerite Mathews’ theater company, Pontine Movement Theater in Portsmouth, is showing an actor-created performance based on 32 poems by New Hampshire summer resident Ogden Nash through May 11.

The Players’ Ring is having a special showing of Lose Some Win Some by Noah Sheola, winner of the F. Gary Newton Playwriting Competition. The show runs May 8 through 18, with a benefit performance May 9 for the theater’s air-conditioning fund. In the play, Santa has been locked in the basement, forced to compete in a high-stakes game show. If it’s like most New England basements, he could use some fresh air.

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