… Linda Thorson in a great performance …

EXIT/ENTRANCE is about two couples, one old, one young, who are much alike except for age, but that of course makes all the difference.  Both men are classical scholars, both women are without specific vocations, they all like the same music, everybody loves Greece, and (perhaps for some casting reason?) the men speak with American accents while the women speak with Irish accents;  the couples live side-by-side in identical apartments.  Charles of ACT 1 EXIT (old and young couple are given the same names) looks back on the excellent papers he’s written about classical literature.  Charles of ACT 2 ENTRANCE looks forward to ones he has in mind.

It takes awhile to understand what specifically Charles and Helen of ACT 1 are up to but it’s clear they’re on the way out.  With subtle gradualism, supported by superb acting, we come to understand that Charles has two things on his mind:  hopeless disease is devouring him, and Helen, who is mentally fragile and has spent time in a mental ward recovering from a nervous breakdown, can’t live without him.  Though she’s less sure about that than he is, and is still quite capable of joy and interest in the world, she’s more or less ready to go with him as they prepare to end things “like the Romans.”  She grows as a character to the very end:  though she habitually obeys him, she takes a stand, insisting on closing the curtains.  “To avoid peeping Toms” he says, amused:  and yes, because for both of them this is indeed an act of love.  Is Charles correct that Helen can’t get by without him?  Part of the tantalizing brilliance of this touching act — a one-act play in itself — is that we can’t be sure and that, since love’s at stake and human beings are imperfect, maybe it doesn’t matter.

Linda Thorson in ACT 1 gives as fine a performance as one will ever see as the tentative, vague, dependent, yet loving and ultimately clear thinking Helen.  One sees her thoughts form, her memories and and emotions surface, and the effect these have on her whole being:  her hands, her lower lip — everything is brought into play.  She is the star of this play and a powerful reason for seeing it and is ably aided by Greg Mullavey as her tweedy, pushy, but deeply loving classicist husband.

In ACT 2 ENTRANCE, we enter another apartment and — as far as believability goes — another world.  Young Charles expresses his enthusiasms by forced gestures and staged leaps onto packing boxes.  I didn’t believe for a moment he was a classicist — the titles of the papers he was planning were over general and, oh gee, he mis-uses classical terms (not the actor’s fault?  the playwright doesn’t seem to have learned enough about the classics to make the vocation convincing).  Young Helen is cloyingly “cute”.  Both young actors are constantly self-aware and never surrender actor-wise to their parts.  Since death is not at hand for the young couple, to bring in an element of conflict the playwright resorts to Helen using seduction and planned pregnancy to attach an ambivalent Charles to her which here seems old hat;  the older Charles is truly smitten by his Helen.  Parallel old and young couples side by side is an interesting idea but ACT 2 disappoints.

See the play for ACT 1 EXIT.  See it for Linda Thorson.

EXIT/ENTRANCE plays at the 59E59 Theaters in midtown Manhattan through October 3.