Sheet Happens

The title is Accelerando, but the current production at Arizona State University's Prism Theatre isn't a musical. It's a romance, of sorts. She (Roxane Policare) and He (Stan Weightman Jr.) are young New Yorkers who meet at a party. They go back to his place, undress, and tussle under the covers with a cautious discretion that the Amish might find quaint. In between several bouts of this, they wrangle with each other about their world views.

Both insist that they share a belief in living in the moment and giving no thought whatever to any possible future or lack thereof between them. They want to make their night together perfect, in case it turns out to be the only one they get. So what the heck are they arguing about? As the play progresses, we see that--surprise!--she's a romantic who can't help hoping for a true and lasting love, and that--surprise!--he's a panicky commitmentphobe who freaks out at the slightest suggestion of lasting intimacy. Both are also visited, throughout the evening, by the specters of their respective mothers. His (Kristin K. Hailstone) has the habit of actually crawling into bed between them and pushing her young competitor to the floor, while hers (Jo Ann Yeoman) is a feisty Puerto Rican who can find nothing encouraging to tell her daughter about this young fellow.

Neither could I, to be honest. As written, the role of He has ripe satirical possibilities. Sometimes He's a withering portrait of how the New Male can use "sensitivity" to be every bit as manipulative as the Old Male, as when He laments the sexism that He has suffered as a woman in past lives, in defense of his demand for oral sex from She. At other times, He comes off simply as a self-centered, creepy asshole--I found myself worried for She's safety. What He definitely does not seem like is a guy you'd want to be around. Yet playwright Lisa Loomer seems to have intended the role as a legitimately attractive romantic lead.

The basic conceit of this comedy--that the hyperkinetic pace of modern life has spread even to one's love life, that a whole romantic relationship, from flirting to sex to quarreling to rejection to reconciliation (or not) can unfold in the course of just one night--is pretty dubious anyway.

This can happen, of course, but it's hardly breaking news--it needn't have anything to do with the techno-auto-cyber-McLives we lead nowadays. There are still plenty of courtships that drag on platonically for years, and there were always relationships that blossomed (and sometimes wilted) in the course of a night. Come to think of it, in many segments of society, marriage used to be a business proposition that was dealt with between farming seasons, and brides and grooms met first at their own weddings. It could be argued that modern technology has made relationships far more personal and self-determined--which does not, of course, in itself guarantee their success.

We've all felt, as She does in Loomer's play, that the world must certainly end tomorrow, just because it seems, somehow, that this shit can't go on much longer. There's always somebody around willing to take this feeling seriously as a symptom of impending breakdown, as if theirs was the first generation ever to feel out of breath at the stresses of adult life. And maybe, this time, the Cassandras are right (the Cassandra was right about the Trojan War, after all). But assertions that society has reached critical mass always make me think of the song in Oklahoma! that goes "Everything's up to date in Kansas City/They've gone about as fer as they kin go . . ."

In any case, it's a rather top-heavy theme for so entirely conventional a piece of modern-dating dramaturgy as Loomer's play. If the world has indeed gone this crazy, then surely the problems of these two little people don't amount to a hill of beans. Regrettably, director Daniel Irvine has taken his cue from this apocalyptic rhetoric, which is by far the least convincing aspect of Accelerando.

Outside the theater before the show, Irvine has staged an elaborate street scene, complete with Hare Krishnas, hookers, preachers, panhandlers, junkies, musicians, transvestites, a lost Japanese tourist and a mellow bongo player. It's a colorful spectacle, and probably any one of those characters would have made a more interesting protagonist for a play than Loomer's dithering one-night-standers. But the relevance of this effect to the play at hand is a few lines in one of He's monologues about how there seem to be more hookers and homeless people every year. If this were played as He's maudlin obtuseness, it might be funny, since at any point in history, you would have a hard time finding an urban area without a street somewhere that resembled Irvine's preshow. But manifesting He's vision in this way amounts to an endorsement of it, in theatrical terms.

Apart from this basic conceptual flaw, Irvine's production is reasonably smooth and well-mounted. The set, by Katia Kaplun, is well-crafted, although one look at He's swingin' bachelor pad, with its Japanese-style screens and its Buddha wearing a Yankee cap, and a smart woman would bolt for the door, quickly.

With one big exception, the acting is acceptable. Despite the self-consciously quirky backstories that Loomer gives them--She's a Puerto Rican/Hungarian ballerina; He's a bassoonist who aspires to be a filmmaker--the characters and their mothers are rather generic figures in terms of how they talk. Hailstone never quite gets a handle on the underwritten part of He's mother, but Yeoman brings some zest to She's Mami. Policare fares best as She; the performance is touched with rueful wit.

It's Weightman's He that really weighs the evening down. The charmlessness of the character in this production can't all be laid at the feet of the script. Weightman is large and nice-looking, but he speaks and moves at a deadening pace, and he takes a huge, stupefying pause before almost every line. His performance belies the theme of the show--whenever he was speaking, I had to fight back the urge to shout, "Accelerando, for God's sake, accelerando!"

Accelerando continues through Saturday, December 7, in Arizona State University's Prism Theatre, Rural and Orange in Tempe. For more details, see Theater listing in Thrills.