Attending Michael Weller’s 1988 Loose Ends is like time travel. The playwright’s depiction of 1970s disaffected youth, an idealistic Peace Corps, good natured, soft drug use, living off the land, free love, and cheap travel is immensely evocative without being entirely one sided. We see aspiration toward and achievement of traditional lifestyles side by side with utter self indulgence, references to “selling out,” and dog tags. (Sound Designer Andy Evan Cohen contributes just the right music.)
Somewhat straight-laced Paul (Loren Bidner) and free spirited Susan (Sarah Mae Vink) are cavorting on a beach in Bali. (A discreet sheet is at one point abandoned.) He’s just out of the Core (an illuminating anecdote says it all), she’s aimlessly exploring. They would stay together were it not for a private school teaching job he’s secured back home.
Melanie Glancy, Sarah Mae Vink, and Loren Bidner
For nine years we follow the couple as they separate, come together, commute, cohabit, eventually marry, find respective personal arts, build careers, repeatedly relocate, split, and bed one another…Dates appear on a screen also utilized to project environs.
Orbiting the pair while going through their own changes are: pothead builder, army veteran Doug (Erik Endsley), and his mate, earth mother Maraya (Maggie Alexander); Susan’s old friend, ditsy, irritating Janice (Melanie Glancy), first with spacey, ashram assistant Russell (Ivan Sandomire), and then city planner Phil (Gregory Barone); Paul’s film editing partner Selina (Hui-Shan Yong), and his overachieving brother Ben (Jason Asher).
Sarah Mae Vink and Hui-Shan Yong
For reasons perhaps known only by Weller, Susan stays with or returns to Paul, endlessly pulling him up by his bootstraps, despite his being thoughtless, self centered, whiny, and volatile. Charisma and/or redeeming attributes are, if present, well masked. It’s difficult to sit through a 2 ½ hour play disliking the protagonist. Nor does it help that Loren Bidner delivers a one note portrayal of the exasperating young man.
Unfortunately, he’s not alone. I’ve seen some first rate productions at T. Schreiber. This one is not well cast. Sarah Mae Vink is clearly speaking English as a second language. The peek-a-boo accent manifests inappropriate effort and makes her less American. Like Bidner, though with parenthetic exceptions, she appears to be all surface. I can’t help but wonder whether the young actors have any sense of what the 70s were like.
Sarah Mae Vink and Loren Bidner
Among the rest of this large cast, three and a half actors work with particular authenticity: Teruaki Akai, in the very small role of a Balinese Fisherman, is credible and sweet.
Erik Endsley’s speedy, stoned, robust Doug is appealingly familiar from loosey goosey, Big-Bird-physicality to unregulated volume.
Jason Asher is so real he could walk out of the theater in his role. Every gesture, tone, and reaction are inherently Ben.
Hui-Shan Young’s Selina comes alive in a discussion with Susan about pregnancy.
These actors visibly think before they speak as well as when they’re silent.
Terry Schreiber’s Direction is uneven. The stage is used effectively, small business enhances, pacing is good. Maraya follows giving Doug the finger with a puckered kiss and later knots his necktie on herself before putting it around his neck – great. Susan and Paul are physically good with one another.
On the other hand, Maraya handles her babies as if they were dolls, especially vis-à-vis breast feeding and jerking tiny arms up to wave. Several actors lose focus almost every time they turn towards the audience. None of the champagne bottles pop. There’s no reason Gus Solomons Jr. has to be cliché-limp-wristed as Susan’s flamboyant boss. Many of the actors don’t listen to one another.
George Allison’s Set Design is cleverly constructed from large, cut-out, cardboard photos. Susan’s photographic montage (you can look at intermission) cleverly embeds images of the actors in character. Projections clash with the cut-outs.
Clarissa Marie-Ligan’s Ming Dynasty horse is perfect. (Properties)
Costumes by Hope Governali are almost all cheap looking and unflattering. As several characters grow well heeled, this doesn’t jell. One understands cost limitations, but …
While Loose Ends rings true to its era, why a revival now? In the last weeks, I’ve seen pieces by Arthur Miller, Eugene O’Neill, and efforts by three lesser known authors, all of which seem as relevant today as when they were set and/or written.
Photos by Frank Spring
Opening: Loren Bidner & Sarah Mae Vink
Loose Ends by Michael Weller
Directed by Terry Schreiber
T. Schreiber Studio & Theater
151 West 26th Street
Through April 15, 2017