Exactly how much can you negotiate in a relationship to get your way? When do you end one relationship and start another? How much contact is healthy with an ex? These are just some of the issues dealt with in Bill Cook’s Devotion, a comedy about three people who should probably remain single indefinitely as they don’t seem to comprehend the kind of devotion necessary to sustain a relationship.
In Devotion, Tricia (Beth Josephsen) is a budding artist with a problem: her ex, Alex (Danny Turek), is living in her loft apartment with her and her current boyfriend, James (James Harper). The time is the early ’90s and the area is SoHo in downtown Manhattan, and it’s all about where you are and who you know that can propel your career forward, a belief keenly held by Tricia, Alex (an actor), and James (a videographer). Even after he is forced out, Alex finds a way to keep returning to Tricia and James, creating tension and mistrust while he makes his goal of reuniting with Tricia very apparent.
The emerging star of this production is Danny Turek, perfectly cast as the actor Alex, as he has (to quote “I’m the Greatest Star” from Funny Girl), “Thirty-six expressions, sweet as pie to tough as leather, and that’s six expressions more than all them Barrymores put together.” Mr. Turek has a delightfully rubbery face, reminiscent of a young Jim Carrey. He is quick on his feet and has terrific chemistry with his nemesis, James Harper, another fine, handsome performer. Mr. Harper has the blander role, but he comes to life with his trademark intensity (I saw him in Standing Room Only’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde last month and was frightened) in scenes where he as his character is doing improvised monologues on camera. Beth Josephsen’s Tricia is tough to take in large doses, as the eye-rolling and sighing gets to be a bit much. I saw Ms. Josephsen in Actors’ Theatre of Columbus’s All the Great Books Abridged over the summer where she was delightfully peppy and energetic, a stark contrast to the role she plays here. Tricia is the kind of girl men should stay clear of as, at the end of the day, her devotion is strictly to herself and career.
What I like most about Bill Cook’s writing is the dialogue. Every character has their own voice and motivation, and the plot stands up to analysis and interpretation. For instance, the title Devotion refers not to any of the three characters’ feelings for each other; this is a love story about an apartment! That explains how Tricia is able to get away with being such a harpy with two attractive men fighting over her – it’s a love story about real estate! The writing doesn’t come out and state that explicitly, and it’s quite possible that my take on it isn’t what Mr. Cook intended, but what a joy it is to find writing meaty enough to chew on and discuss.
Devotion runs around ninety minutes with an intermission, a break that only serves to separate an inferior first act in which a lot of groundwork is laid from a quick and witty second half. Director Pamela Hill doesn’t always seem to know the best way to start and end a scene effectively, and the performers often come off as rather awkward without enough business around their lines at the beginning of scenes. The blackouts are also quite long while people rather slowly move set pieces and props around. This kind of comedy needs a certain pace to work effectively, and it’s very obvious when it is off.
Though it was a bit rough going early on and Beth Josephsen’s shrill characterization of Tricia can be tough to take, Devotion winds up as an enjoyable enough treat. It doesn’t pretend to be more than it is, and there are genuine laughs that arise organically out of the situation (mostly in the second act). I found myself surprised when it ended as the plot had just taken an unexpected left turn, leaving me curious to see what was going to happen next. And then I realized that a variation on that story had already been written nearly fifty years ago by Neil Simon: The Odd Couple.
**/ out of ****
Devotion continues through to November 14th in the MadLab Theatre located at 227 North Third Street in downtown Columbus, and more information can be found at http://ab-theatrical.com/