Amazing Journey

"Wintertime' leaves you cold"
The Seattle Post
Tuesday, March 2, 2004

By Michael Kuchwara

NEW YORK -- The snow flakes fall silently, almost serenely, in "Wintertime," covering not only the stage but even the actors appearing in playwright Charles L. Mee's antic and frantic dissection of the quixotic nature of love.

Unfortunately, everything else lands with a thud in this heavy-handed production, forcing a group of usually accomplished performers to strain, really strain, for laughs.

Maybe they feel they have to since "Wintertime," on view at off-Broadway's Second Stage Theater, is an absurdist comedy that is part philosophical discussion and part Feydeau farce, complete with slamming doors and at least one fellow caught with his trousers down.

The play needs a stylish, elegant touch to work, but director David Schweizer has the large cast, which includes Marsha Mason (saddled with an impossible Italian accent) and Michael Cerveris, performing at full throttle. The result is an exhausting, nearly joy-free evening.

"Wintertime," which takes place in a snowbound vacation cabin, features a parade of amorous couples, each in various stages of passion. The play begins with the arrival of a blissful young twosome, Jonathan and Ariel, who think they will have time alone in the isolated retreat. Guess again.

Not only do they find Jonathan's mother, Maria, and her French lover, Francois, but the youth's father, Frank, soon makes an appearance - with his boyfriend Edmund in tow. Mix in the two lesbians who live down the road, a delivery man and a glamorous woman doctor and you have quite a crowd working at a feverish pitch.

Mee has been preoccupied with love for a long time, in plays with such titles as "First Love," "Big Love" and "True Love." Here, he's dealing with its extremes, with each couple ricocheting from romance to jealousy and back again in the noisiest manner possible.

Only the delightful Marylouise Burke, as the deliciously named Hilda Braunschweiger, handles these shifts with the required comic finesse. Cerveris has a few funny moments as the egocentric Frenchman, and he's a good sport about stripping down to his bikini briefs - twice.

After all the agitation, "Wintertime" eventually comes out foursquare in favor of commitment. "We want to be faithful to one another fundamentally," says a character during one of the play's saner moments. Too bad this advice couldn't have been delivered with a much lighter touch.

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