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A CurtainUp Review
Things You Shouldn't Say Past Midnight
rin Dilly and Mark Kassen in Bed #1 of Things You Shouldn't Say Past Midnight's 3 beds.
For a never produced young playwright to have his first play produced for an open-ended run at a major Off-Broadway house is as impossible as pushing a wet noodle up a hill. Right? Well, not always. Peter Ackerman's sex comedy, Things You Shouldn't Say Past Midnight has arrived at the Promenade Theater steered by David Ives' favorite director, John Rando, with six buoyant actors mussing up the beds and an imaginative top drawer design team. Ackerman has hit enough relationship hot buttons to give his romp through three Manhattan beds that may well appeal to the same audiences who've kept I Love You're Perfect, Now Change, running for five years at another popular Off-Broadway venue.

The three sets of bed partners saying things they shouldn't say at three a.m. in the morning (you mean you're fast asleep at that hour?) include a Jewish graduate student Ben (Mark Kassen and his girl friend Nancy (Erin Dilly) who grew up in Grants Pass, Oregon a place not notable for its Jewish population; her sexually adventurous best friend Grace (Clea Lewis) and a straight-laced, upwardly mobile Italian hit man Gene (Jeffrey Donovan) plus his brother Mark who's also her therapist(Andrew Benator) and his much older Jewish lover Mr. Abramson (Nicholas Kepros).

The no-no words accompany much orgasmic writhing under bed covers that are tossed aside just often enough to titillate (especially easy for the great looking Dilly and Lewis and hunky Donovan). When couple number one, Nancy and Ben, reach their heights, she suddenly shouts "Do me, you hook nosed Jew!" Bingo. Ben tumbles off cloud nine and passion play becomes a verbal match that leads to hurt feelings, misunderstanding (about his sexual preferences as well as her possible anti-Semitism) and Nancy's departure.

As Ben's bed slides back into the padded red and blue wall of Rob Odorisio's ingeniously clever set, out comes another again backed by a window with a Manhattan skyline view gorgeously lit by Donald Holder. We're now in Grace's apartment and Ackerman repeats his coitus interruptus game to humorously poke fun at the traditional relationship in which men tend to be the sexual predators. Jeffrey Donovan plays Ackerman's wildly exaggerated "boy toy" gangster with a hilarious mix of sincerity and compulsive prissiness that make him most endearing. Clea Lewis is delightfully ditsy as the nymphomaniac who wants sex and nothing but sex from "clean Gene"

The third bed scenario features therapist Mark acting out his sexual tick (he's turned on by old men). with Mr. Abramson who hasn't come this close to sexual pleasure since 1962 and for whom "a minute is a precious commodity." Nicholas Krepos plays the senior citizen in the midst of these thirty-somethings with blatantly overstated and scene stealing relish.

Following up on Grace's theory that "people don't always know what's best for them. That's what friends are for." By the time all three beds and their occupants are interconnected by means of three-way speaker phones, it's clear that Nancy's if it's on your lung it's on your tongue hooked nose words are the playwright's open sesame for digging ever so lightly to those hidden parts of ourselves that we are generally loathe to allow out of the dark corners where they lurk.

The play drives home its points, about religious and sexual differences and how language plays a part in relationships, relentlessly. Let's face it, there are many hurtful things we shouldn't say to other people even before midnight, and most of us know what they are Like so many modern comedies, Things You Shouldn't Say Past Midnight, never quite throws off its kinship to a TV sitcom, albeit an x-rated one. Its theme of anything goes at certain unguarded moments (or, as Nancy puts it "saying those outrageous things is a way of being a bad person for one second without having to explain yourself" ) doesn't quite work. Yet Mr. Ackerman punctuates his script with enough laugh lines that do work to make for an entertaining hour and a half -- especially as abetted by Mr. Rando's crisp direction and the excellence of the cast and staging. A minor quibble on the last: Considering the Promenade's proximity to Zabar's and Fairway, one would think that the one nosh scene could have had a prop other than that New York comedy standard the Chinese takeout carton.
By Peter Ackerman
Directed by John Rando
With Andrew Benator Erin Dilly Jeffrey Donovan Mark Kassen Nicholas Kepros Clea Lewis
Set design: Rob Odorisio
Costume design: Tom Broecker
Lighting design: Donald Holder
Sound design: Peter Fitzgerald
Promenade Theatre, Broadway at 76th St (212/580-1313)
Running time: 90 minutes without intermission
First performance 4/23/99;opening 5/13 /99
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer based on 5/11 performance

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