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Bay Theatre Company’s Lips Together, Teeth Apart

The title’s a metaphor; this play’s a triumph

We hear a lot these days about relationships. There’s the romantic kind, and then there are other kinds: husband/wife, brother/sister, parent/offspring as well as the illicit kind, among others, some of which migrate from one form to another. In Bay Theatre’s fine new production, Lips Together, Teeth Apart (we’ll discuss the title later; stick with me), we see relationships that are stretched to the breaking point.

Two married couples are spending a holiday weekend at a beach house on Fire Island. Here’s a broad summary of the relationships in play:

John is married to Chloe; they have left their children at home for this weekend.

Sam is married to Sally. They are childless, but Sally has had more than one miscarriage.

Sam and Chloe are brother and sister.

Sally’s brother David is dead, leading to her inheritance of the beach house in which the four are staying.

John and Sally had a brief affair, which they believe they’ve kept secret.

These are the elemental relationships at work here, but there’s more, much more. As the play progresses, the intricacies of the characters’ involvements with one another and with others unfold. 

John and Sally’s earlier dalliance is not the secret they supposed it to be. Undercurrents of fear, resentment and despair reveal themselves.

Nevertheless, Lips Apart is not a battle of the sexes. Rather, it’s a study of flawed people who are capable of realizing their faults and who manage growth in the face of adversity. For example: By the end of the play, Sam, who is an outspoken homophobe at the outset, makes a human connection with the gay neighbors.

Lips Apart is in no sense about homosexuality or about gays, but the setting on Fire Island — and the unseen neighbors — are like additional characters in the play, who never say or do anything but who are always there, like it or not. 

This is a complex play. Like one of those trick boxes; you open the box only to find another box within, then another inside that, and so on.

Occasionally, a character will deliver a monologue — sometimes trivial, sometimes profound — that reveals a memory or a thought that stands by itself while sustaining the action. But the mixture of dialogue and monologue does not confusing or interrupt the flow of the drama. That’s testimonial to the writing and directorial expertise that went into this production. 

All four actors give performances to make Bay Theatre proud. The plot requires all actors to play characters on more than one level, and that’s what this foursome achieves.

I give the nod for outstanding performance to Coleen Delaney in the role of Chloe. Delaney’s monologues — ranging from daffy through manic to downright hysterical — make the rhythm that drives the action.

Nancy Bannon, in the role of Sally, places a close second in a more subdued role. Bannon’s character is the most honest of the four, and she conveys that honesty perfectly.

The two male characters, John (Britton Herring) and Sam (Michael Propster) don’t have dramatic opportunities afforded the women, but they give it their best.

The ingenious set is another contributor to the magic of this play. We see a beach house, complete with swimming pool, shower, beach sand and deck. All this on a stage that’s probably no larger than your front porch.

Lips Together, Teeth Apart, which debuted in 1991, is a great play, and its acquisition by Bay Theatre is an interesting story in itself. Janet Luby, the company’s new artistic director, heard that the play was scheduled for an off-Broadway revival.

One of the actors left the production and the New York revival was cancelled. This is good fortune for us because plays are not released to other venues while a New York production is in progress. Acting quickly, Luby was able to acquire the rights.

Luby herself became artistic director following a company reorganization, and that, given her talent, is a good thing.

Finally, Lips Together, Teeth Apart is a prescription for what you’re supposed to do if you grind your teeth at night. Go figure.


 

Written by Terrence McNally. Director: Gillian Drake. Set design: Ken Sheats. Props/Set decoration: Jo Ann Gidos. Stage Manager: Beth Terranova. Costume design: Allyson Tierney. Lighting design: Steven and Preston Strawn. Sound design: Christopher Baine. 
 
Playing thru Nov. 13 at 8pm TFSa; 3pm Su at Bay Theatre Company, 275 West St., Annapolis. $30; rsvp: 410-268-1333; www.baytheatre.org.