Wednesday, September 5, 2012

THEATRE REVIEW: "2 Across" at The Vista Broadway Theater

“2 Across” is an easy, breezy romantic comedy:
Vista’s Broadway Theater stages Jerry Mayer’s cute but lightweight two person play

By Donnie Matsuda

It is funny how some insignificant things – like whether we finish our crossword puzzles or not – can sometimes serve as apt and appropriate metaphors for how we live our lives.

Take, for instance, Janet.  This bespectacled, uptight, and professionally mannered psychologist always uses a pen to complete her New York Times crossword puzzles, making sure to perfectly cross her t’s and dot her i’s along the way.  Not only that, but she’s got a copy of Webster’s dictionary, as well as an atlas, packed in her purse in case she comes across some “crossword emergencies” and needs the extra help.  It is perhaps no surprise that she lives her life as “Type A” as they come, and it is perhaps somewhat ironic that her personal life is messily crumbling around her as she works so diligently to keep everything on the right track.

Eileen Bowman and Marc Sylwestrzak in "2 Across."  Photo courtesy of Vista's Broadway Theater.
She’s the polar opposite of Josh (a starving actor who masquerades as “Tom Cruise” for much of the play’s first act).  He’s your typical unkempt and unemployed free-spirit from Berkeley who dabbles superficially in the art of crossword puzzles, but can easily – and frequently – be distracted by the headlines on the sports page.  Wielding his Number 2 pencil and eraser, he is a casual puzzler who is not afraid to make mistakes, and as a result, ends up making quite a few along the way.   

Of course, the crossword gods dictate that these two distinct souls meet on a 4am BART train, as it leaves San Francisco en route to the East Bay.  We, the audience of 2 Across, are with them for the entire duration of their bus trip, which plays out over the course of two scenes, which are here split into two 45-minute acts.  And what happens during this rather brief journey can best be described as sitcom style comedy, filled with rather implausible scenarios, giddy role play, and lightweight one-liners as our dynamic duo banter back and forth about their shared fetish for the fill-in-the-blank.  Of course, we learn a little bit about these characters as they begin to peel away the layers of their personal lives and start to let their hair down, but in the end, nothing about them remains very deep or very complex.  Playwright Jerry Mayer (who perhaps not surprisingly made a career out of TV screenwriting before moving on to writing plays) keeps it simple and light throughout: there isn’t an ounce of conflict or dramatic discord in the entire script and the closest thing we come to surprise is learning that neither Josh nor Janet are married, despite the fact they both wear wedding rings.

Eileen Bowman and Marc Sylwestrzak.  Photo courtesy of Vista's Broadway Theater.
But despite its deficiencies, it is the performances that make this play work, and here, director Randall Hickman has found a winning pair with the real-life husband and wife team of Eileen Bowman and Marc Sylwestrzak.  Bowman (who herself is a beloved San Diego actress most recently seen as the female lead in "Joe Vs. The Volcano" at Lambs Players Theatre) plays the nebbishly neurotic and nasally-voiced Janet to a tee, delivering her lines with a sort of sophisticated polish and well-rehearsed air.  She’s got some fine comedic chops which are put to excellent use here, and oftentimes, her facial reactions are even more engaging than her actual lines.  Sylwestrzak provides a near perfect counterpoint to Bowman’s tightly-wound tenacity, with just the right amount of slacker swag to make his character both credible and likeable.  Together, the two of them share great (albeit, intentionally awkward) chemistry and play off each other beautifully.  And, to top it off, Hickman’s staging is sharp and crisp and he uses every inch of space on his simple set, which is composed of two bus benches across the aisle from each other. 

While Mayer’s writing veers a bit too much toward the cute and kitchy, 2 Across is simply his attempt to provide an easy, breezy evening of light and innocent fun.  And that it is, thanks to Hickman’s skillful staging and his cast of two dynamic actors who bring this mostly charming story to life.             
The newly remodeled Broadway Theatre where "2 Across" is being performed.  Photo courtesy of Vista's Broadway Theater.
Things to know before you go: 2 Across presented by Vista’s Broadway Theater plays at The Broadway Theater at 340 East Broadway in Vista through September 23, 2012.  Running time is 2 hours with one 15 minute intermission.  For more information and to purchase tickets, visit or call (760) 806-7905.

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