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Lips Together, Teeth Apart at New Phoenix  Theatre is a rare bird – a true comedy/drama.

THE BASICS: LIPS TOGETHER, TEETH APART, a play by Terrence McNally, directed by Greg Natale, stars Candice Kogut, Richard Lambert, Kelli Bocock-Natale, and Eric Rawski, through October 8, Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m. at the New Phoenix Theatre, 95 Johnson Park (716-853-1334). www.newphoenixtheatre.org. Cash or checks only (no plastic). Runtime: over 2-1/2 hours with two 10-minute intermissions. Beer, wine, soft drinks, and water available. Advisory: very limited restroom facilities.

THUMBNAIL SKETCH: It’s the Fourth of July weekend, summer of 1992, and two related straight couples get together in a beachfront house in a gay community on Fire Island. Sally Truman (Candice Kogut) – who inherited the house when her brother David died of AIDS – and her husband Sam Truman (Eric Rawski) have invited Sam’s sister Chloe Haddock (Kelli Bocock-Natale) and her husband John Haddock (Richard Lambert) for the weekend. They are each suffering terrible burdens which are revealed to the audience though monologues, but they can’t break out of the loneliness which surrounds them. Not only are they isolated from each other, but from the friendly, partying gay community in which they find themselves, making them trapped with no way out.

THE PLAYERS, THE PLAY, AND THE PRODUCTION:

Having recently seen Strindberg’s DANCE OF DEATH at the Shaw Festival, then Margulies’ DINNER WITH FRIENDS at Road Less Traveled, and for Curtain Up! McNally’s LIPS TOGETHER, TEETH APART at the New Phoenix, I’ve seen more couples bickering on stage than I should. And, at first I was a little jaded, but then I recalled Tolstoy’s famous line from Anna Karenina: “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” And so I have to remember that Strindberg, Margulies, and McNally each get to describe an unhappy family or two in their own ways. It’s my fault for seeing them all in a row.

I’m loath to go in to detail about how our two couples, the Trumans and the Haddocks, are unhappy in their own ways because every sentence would begin with the words SPOILER ALERT! This is a rather long play and it’s in three acts for a reason. Things (many, many things) have to be revealed slowly, in their own time, from late morning until the Independence Day fireworks show that July 4th evening.

And so Act I is a sort of prologue, where we get to meet the two couples, learn about them as individuals, and set the play in motion. Act II moves several of the story lines to a climax.  And Act III shows us a way forward. Maybe not the ideal way, but a way. And, yes, death is a constant theme, from bugs getting zapped all the way to death from AIDS to, well, … SPOILER ALERT!

Without a doubt, McNally is a master, weaving together several plot lines and then bringing everything together.

Without a doubt, McNally is a master, weaving together several plot lines and then bringing everything together. Not neatly, maybe not happily together ever after, but with some kind of closure.

All four of the actors are Buffalo favorites for a reason: they’re good. But special kudos go out to Kelli Bocock-Natale who convincingly plays one of the most annoying characters ever penned and she does it with nuance and depth.

And, the play is funny!  Really, truly laugh out loud funny. So, yes it deals with inconvenient truths and uncomfortable situations, but there are a number of great comedy moments.

There is a swimming pool with real water and an outdoor shower which really works not to mention a bug zapper.

Special mention goes once again to 2016 Artie Award winning Paul Bostaph for yet another wonderful stage set. There is a swimming pool with real water and an outdoor shower which really works not to mention a bug zapper. But the best detail for me was a small crawl space window so when “Sam” is looking for things inside we see his flashlight, dimly, through that window. Clever.

Photo: Eric Rawski as Sam, Candice Kogut as Sally, Kelli Bocock-Natale as Chloe, and Richard Lambert as John

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*HERD OF BUFFALO (Notes on the Rating System)

ONE BUFFALO: This means trouble. A dreadful play, a highly flawed production, or both. Unless there is some really compelling reason for you to attend (i.e. you are the parent of someone who is in it), give this show a wide berth.

TWO BUFFALOS: Passable, but no great shakes. Either the production is pretty far off base, or the play itself is problematic. Unless you are the sort of person who’s happy just going to the theater, you might look around for something else.

THREE BUFFALOS: I still have my issues, but this is a pretty darn good night at the theater. If you don’t go in with huge expectations, you will probably be pleased.

FOUR BUFFALOS: Both the production and the play are of high caliber. If the genre/content are up your alley, I would make a real effort to attend.

FIVE BUFFALOS: Truly superb–a rare rating. Comedies that leave you weak with laughter, dramas that really touch the heart. Provided that this is the kind of show you like, you’d be a fool to miss it!

Written by Peter Hall

Peter Hall

Peter Hall continues trying to figure out how "it" all works. For 20 years, as program host on Classical 94.5 WNED and continuing on-stage with the Buffalo Chamber Music Society, he's conducted over 1,000 interviews with artists as he asks them to explain, in layman's terms, "what's the big picture here?"

As mentioned recently in Buffalo Spree magazine, Peter's "Buffalo Rising reviews are the no-holds barred 'everyman's' take." And, on “Theater Talk” (heard Friday mornings at 6:45 and 8:45 a.m. on WBFO 88.7 FM and Saturday afternoons at 5:55 p.m. on Classical 94.5 WNED) his favorite question of co-host Anthony Chase is simply "What's goin' on?"

A member of Buffalo's Artie Awards Committee, Peter holds a B.A. in Comparative Literature from Columbia University and an M.B.A. from SUNY at Buffalo. For over twenty-five years he has been an adjunct professor for Canisius College’s Richard J. Wehle School of Business.

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