In “The Snake Can” at the Odyssey Theatre, playwright Kathryn Graf shares her own coming-of-advanced-age story with advanced wit and flair, albeit with a taut touch of perimenopausal whimsy and delusional implausibility.
The themes are rich in this two-act rollick that explores a variety of midlife relationships. The women include a newly-aspiring artist who, while married for 25 years to a celebrity, has lost herself and grown bored, another who is seven-years widowed yet still bird-in-the-window stunned, and a third, who is divorced and on the prowl.
While the women are complex and relatable, the counterpoint men, with whom these women commingle, are a whopping tad less so. There is the dashing and beloved actor who is 25-years faithfully married, the well-traveled and verbal bisexual socialite who craves stable companionship with a woman (say, what?!), and a calm and caring gentleman who desires only platonic friendship. Hmmm.
While the women are of the real world, the men seem product of fantasy. There are no examples of the charming but non-committal player, the divorced 60 year-old who feels youngest in the arms of anorexic nymphs, the gay who is not at all interested in bedding anyone without a gym membership, the married guy who is married only temporarily and is hence open to other possibilities, or the web hound who “dates” someone nubile every night.
The men in this play are different from so many of the men in big cities, though, to be fair, it is refreshing to see men depicted as something other than skirt-chasing simpletons. It must be refreshing for the men as well. Their models on the screen are often altered-state misogynists with more women than back and ear hair. Surely those depictions are not any more accurate.
The general breadth of insight and girth of fantasy all match the high rate of wit and speed. The jokes come at quite a quick clip. The rhythm of the opening scene captures both the effervescence of youth and the urgency one feels during encroaching old age. We are all reminded to hurry up and discover both our authentic selves and romantic love before we’re no longer ourselves and hence no longer lovable.
Director Steven Robman co-creates with writer Kathryn Graf the rawness and whirl of middle-class middle-age. The opening scene, in particular, is swift and apt. The writing and blocking are in deft lockstep as if to mirror not only the energy of youth and the urgency of soon-to-die desires, but the giddiness of early courtship -- if courtship still existed and was not so sorely missed.
Speaking of which, the snake can metaphor is somewhat of a miss, as it is not so overarching. The snake can suggests scary surprise, which might reflect the tragedy of immediate widowhood; but, otherwise, encroaching age is gradual, and we can see most of its ramifications coming.
Despite any kinks -- the men that are fantasies, the few scenes that aren’t quite as complex as the others, the metaphor in the title that isn’t all-encompassing, and the video-projection-sets that smack of shortcut rather than theatrical innovation -- theater-goers who like “Sex in the City” and Jane Kaczmarek, who brings to Harriet the perfect amount of brains, wit and vulnerability and Gregory Harrison, who lends believability to the dream that is gorgeous-celebrity-25-years-married-and-faithful and Nora Ephron-esque humor along with those who might be confounded by modern dating rituals, will enjoy this theatrical romp.
The writing is crisp, the performances are colorful, and the most pointed snake-can surprise is really that inside each of us as we realize -- for those tiny moments during which we don’t delude ourselves -- that we are bounding toward snakeskin old.
“The Snake Can” rendezvous at the Odyssey Theatre through February 24, 2013.