THE OPTIMISTS by Morwyn Brebner, directed by Eda Holmes, with Michael Healey, Randy Hughson, Holly Lewis and Sarah Orenstein. Tarragon Theatre (30 Bridgman). Runs to October 23, Tuesday-Saturday 8 pm, matinees Saturday-Sunday 2:30 pm. $28-$34, Sunday pwyc-$15, stu/srs $18-$28. 416-531-1827. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNN
You can always bet on the winning collaboration of playwright Morwyn Brebner and director Eda Holmes . Their latest production, The Optimists , set in Las Vegas, is an often screamingly funny look at love and the glue that holds relationships together. Beneath the laughs, though, there's a dark and sober streak.
Canadians Chick ( Randy Hughson ) and Teenie ( Holly Lewis ) - he's a car salesman and she's the showroom receptionist - have settled into a tawdrily expensive Vegas hotel room (designed by Deeter Schurig ) to celebrate their upcoming marriage. Chick's boyhood friend Doug ( Michael Healey ) is there for the champagne-popping celebration, but it's when Doug's wife Margie ( Sarah Orenstein ) shows up that things really explode.
Flowing liquor leads to uncensored conversations, conversations full of tense undercurrents. Doug condescends to Chick, Chick is angry at Doug's barely reined-in snobbery, Doug and Margie's marriage isn't as happy as they suggest, and Teenie has a giggly need to take care of her husband-to-be.
Brebner's writing just gets better and better. There's a fine scene between the two men in which they play out their history together, the sometimes uncertain bonding forged back in their teens.
Slowly, dramatically, the playwright reveals the long-term stresses that might now crack these two guys apart.
Healey and Hughson have fine onstage chemistry, Healey as a pent-up control freak who can make a character statement by simply pulling out his shirttails, and Hughson as an easygoing hedonist, an addict who keeps falling off the lower rungs of his 12-step program.
The tart Orenstein, whose vengeful, shit-disturber Margie withers all who come near her with a bitchy putdown or a disdainful smile, matches their strength.
Lewis gets to play more than the girlish innocent she does so well; despite the name, her Teenie, at first out of her depth among the other three, erupts late in the play as a seething, white-hot mass of adult angst.
Sometimes, though, I'd like more detail. Chick has two finely written monologues, speeches that are the equivalent of the glass half-empty and the glass half-full.
The latter, poetic and flowery, is delivered with anger and frustration, but the seeming 180-degree turn from one speech to the other needs better preparation.
Still, The Optimists is an invigorating theatrical roller coaster ride that leaves you, like the two figures onstage at the play's end, a little breathless.