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|A CurtainUp Review
Never Swim Alone
By Les Gutman
UPDATE: Happily, this play, which I liked when I saw it last fall, has resurfaced (literally and otherwise) for an open run at Soho Playhouse, 15 Vandam Street (west of 6th Av.) with no cast changes. Tickets are now available through Telecharge (212) 239-6200. As an aside, its playwright, Daniel MacIvor can be seen wearing his acting hat in the new film, The Five Senses, starring Mary Louise Parker.
Every once in a while, we get a little bit of unexpected poetry in our theater-going lives, a potent, pleasing, carefully-crafted delicacy. These are all the more rewarding, somehow, when they take a bit of digging to find.
Never Swim Alone is such a treasure. It surfaced at this year's Fringe Festival -- winning the Overall Excellence Award -- and happily has returned for a slightly longer visit. It pits Frank (John Maria) and Bill (Douglas Dickerman), friends since they were kids, against one other in a series of thirteen "rounds" of increasing emotional intensity. Each is orchestrated and then scored by a girl who acts as Referee (Susan O'Connor).
The show is now staged in one of those spaces that reminds us that, downtown at least, anywhere that Con Ed has run enough electricity to power a light board constitutes a potential venue. One could euphemistically say this theater is on its building's lower level; it would be more accurate to say it's in the root cellar. Never Swim Alone runs Friday and Saturday nights only, and then only at 10:30 PM.
Frank and Bill have the usual outward markings of conventional success, Type A personalities and all. The font of their ingrained competitiveness is an experience on the last day of a young summer, on the beach, with a girl in a blue bathing suit and a yellow transistor. "Race you to the point?" asks the girl (now Referee). Clad in business suits and carrying briefcases, the two have a score to settle, a final accounting. In their world of winners and losers, there must be a "first man. "
The early rounds are innocuous enough. Frank is indeed taller and wins the first. Others end in a tie. But the confrontations soon become more troubling, and the atmosphere far more disturbing. Daniel MacIvor, a Canadian playwright, has tailored a highly original and compelling pas de deux, two enormously perceptive studies in character yielding much dramatic tension.
John Maria and Douglas Dickerman engage in a parallel competition in the art of portraying these two men. Great care has been taken by both to fully develop the nuances that give the characters integrity. While Dickerman affords Bill's smugness a more palatable finish, John Maria's character must take the greater fall: from offensive bombast to devastation equal to that of a tragic hero. It's anybody's call who ends up on top. Regardless, Ms. O'Connor is on par as she engagingly represents their pivot.
The direction here is suitably stylized without being overly self-conscious; the lighting is fully in keeping. This is very definitely a case where less is more. And in the final analysis, that's quite a lot.