University Theater’s Wintertime tackles domestic drama with humor

By Jack Tamburri

Wintertime, this weekend’s University Theater production, opens with a young man and his girlfriend arriving at a secluded family vacation home to spend the winter holidays alone together. That’s before they are interrupted by his mother and her male lover—not to mention his father and his male lover, the lesbian couple from next door, the mother’s lover’s one-night-stand from the previous spring, and a delivery man insisting that someone has to sign for a computer.

The play, written by Charles Mee, is full of lyric monologues and replete with rhythmic exchanges. Outbursts of Bugs Bunny-esque violence in the dialogue may not get the characters anywhere, but they add to the overall comedic intelligence of the script. Director Greg Beam infuses this poetic, romantic comedy with a delightfully malicious sense of humor.

Jonathan, the aforementioned young man (first-year Will Fulton), used to have an average amount of 20-something self-centeredness in his first serious relationship. But a series of loose comments—which seems to imply a prior liaison between his girlfriend, Ariel (first-year Emily Boyd), and his mother’s sleazy French paramour Francois (first-year Thomas Bullock)—send him spiraling down into baseless accusations and self-pity.

His parents are in no position to help, as they deal with their own issues of trust and faithfulness. Maria and Frank—shockingly well-acted by third-year Katie Carlson and fourth-year Brian Kilborn, respectively—have a standing arrangement: each is free to take lovers, but they must sleep together on Fridays. This agreement is satisfactory to no one and causes rifts between Maria and Francois and between Frank and his lover Edmond (a sly and passionate performance by second-year Dan Kimmel).

Carlson does stand-out work, accomplishing the difficult task of making her self-righteous and often bitchy character sympathetic. Fourth-year David Goodloe is also notable as Bob, the delivery man who moonlights as a classicist and a minister. His long, bizarreTmonologues provide two of the funniest moments in the consistently humorous show. Goodloe imbues them with just the right amount of deadpan earnestness—which, against the rest of the cast’s incredulity, gives the scenes a palpable energy.

The cast’s comic timing is slick and professional across the board. An early scene of two long-winded lovers’ quarrels culminates with a satisfying round of choreographed door-slamming, only the first of the production’s well-staged physical comedy sequences. In Wintertime, characters constantly beg each other to grow up and accuse one another of acting immaturely. But when verbal communication breaks down, everyone resorts to the most childish behavior possible—breaking furniture, throwing drinks, and exploding in a final, joyful burst of youthful energy that I will not spoil here.

One might expect that a play with such drastic tonal shifts—ranging from eloquent speeches about love and betrayal to male striptease and pratfalls—would feel choppy and lack narrative cohesion. To an extent, Wintertime does fall victim to this problem, but the deft light design by first-year Yi Zhao and beautiful set design by fourth-year Emily Handlin helps make these transitions occur smoothly. The versatile set consists of a series of platforms and columns, with a backdrop of framed, painted pieces of scrim that are used to wonderful effect in the second act. The acting space allows for moments of character interiority without ever looking cold or abstract.

Wintertime is a celebration of the best and worst in human interaction. Love makes us selfish and frightened; it makes us feel so good and sometimes act so wrong. Without it, the process of living becomes more difficult than anyone can handle. The cast communicates the paradoxes of love with wit and depth. During the 110-minute length of the performance, I was drawn into an internally logical universe, populated by characters with whom I felt a surprising kinship (despite their severe personal flaws). That, by my final estimation, is this production’s greatest strength: the characters are portrayed unapologetically by the talented actors. The cohesion of the cast and the consistency of their world is a credit to Beam’s direction and the ensemble focus he has chosen to take. There are no secondary characters in Wintertime—it’s a story about everyone.

Wintertime runs Thursday through Saturday at 8 p.m. in the First Floor Theater of the Reynold’s Club, with an additional matinee performance at 2 p.m. on Saturday. Tickets are $9 for adults and $7 with a student ID.