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'Half and Half' questions if times really are a-changin’
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Live Theatre Workshop

'Half and Half' questions if times really are a-changin’

It's an entertaining mind bender about a groovy kind of love

  • courtesy LTW

“Half and Half” by playwright James Sherman is actually two one-act plays whose parallels provide a theatrical version of a “compare and contrast” essay. Here, Sherman scrutinizes the social attitudes and gender roles between the comparable but very different household environs in 1970 and 2005.

Sherman is a Second City comedy troupe alumnus whose best known work is the off-Broadway hit, “Beau Jest.” In “Half and Half,” structure is everything, since the time periods are presented wholly separate, rather than intercut. As theatre, Sherman’s structural choice is especially effective because it recycles both its material and its actors, enhancing the sense of parallel lives.

As a result, lots of pop culture elements from the 60’s are subject to reinterpretation in the second act. Most of the reintroduction of material is inspired or inspiring, though some moments seems gratuitous, as when Sherman, as if to prove he’s serious, manages to namecheck Leo Tolstoy to explain The Dick Van Dyke Show’s Rob and Laura Petrie.

It’s April 22, 1970, in the first “Half,” the very first Earth Day, an event created by then-U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson. The fun and fog of the Sixties are just starting to clear. Traditional housewife Susan is in her early stages of feminist radicalization, still wearing an apron and hideous shoes, but reading Betty Friedan.

Susan is obsessed with getting breakfast right for her husband, Stewart, before he goes to work and she heads down to the Earth Day demonstrations, gas mask in hand. She wants to take their 15-year-old daughter, Lucy, with her, over Stewart’s objections. Nascent assertions of self to Stewart’s boss at a recent party, insisting she is Susan Grant, rather than Mrs. Stewart Grant, are an issue, with consequences that run deeper than is immediately apparent.

Meanwhile, Lucy wants to conduct a teach-in on the environment in lieu of her 16th birthday party. She works on her homework at the kitchen table – an analysis of Robert Frost’s poem, “The Road Not Taken.” The point is made: decisions have consequences.

Clearly, the balance of power in the household is in flux and frustration overflows on all sides, finally erupting in violence.

The second “Half” takes place on July 5, 2005. Gaylord Nelson has just died at age 89. Lucy, now a corporate lawyer, is preparing to defend her pollution-spouting client, while her house-husband, Jeremy, cooks frittatas for her and their daughter, Katie. The parental units’ role reversal is complete: Lucy is now a distracted, hard-edged breadwinner with little time for relational nuances. Jeremy is a sensitive New Age guy whom Katie is closer to than her mother. Katie does her homework, a deconstruction of Frost’s “The Road Not Take,” while a discussion rages about her desire for cosmetic surgery. In a nice bit of loopiness, Susan returns for a cameo appearance via phone.

Live Theatre Workshop executive director Kristi Loera portrays Susan and grown-up Lucy. She brings a frenetic energy to both roles, yet clearly differentiates the two characters. Her Susan is tentative, walking in mincing steps, bold but not yet confident. Adult Lucy, on the other hand, is blissfully overworked, un-reflective and over-confident, in contrast to both her mother and the younger version of Lucy that we first encounter. Loera rushes through her lines, constantly pushing her timing and it works for both her characters.

Rick Shipman, as Stewart and Jeremy, has the bigger transition, going from grey flannel shlub to Alan Alda-esque sensitivity. He handles both convincingly, especially in the more nuanced second “Half,” when he no longer has to play the strong, silent type. There isn’t huge chemistry between him and Loera, but there doesn’t need to be. As the author tells us, this play about the working together versus coexisting. Shipman and Loera bring just enough tension and mutual respect to make that dynamic work and still be a comedy.

Though too mature to be playing a fifteen year old, Shannon Rzucidlo also manages the transition well. In the first act, Rzucidlo set up a studious, intense, socially conscious Lucy for Loera to key-off on as adult Lucy. In the second act, Rzucidlo created a more vapid character, still intelliegent and intense, but more deeply concerned with appearances (Katie undergoes three wardrobe changes during breakfast). She is a young actress to watch. We’ll get that opportunity again when she appears in Beowulf Alley Theatre’s production “Rough Crossing” by Tom Stoppard in September.

“Half and Half” makes you think (though not too much), hits some light notes of nostalgia along with its comedy, and provides a nice vehicle for its actors. It’s not exactly a must-see show, though there’s also no reason not to check out this Live Theatre Workshop’s production directed by Missie Scheffman, especially given the summer theatre doldrums. “Half and Half” isn’t a mind blowing work, but it’s at least an entertaining mind bender about a groovy kind of love.

If you go

  • “Half and Half” presented by Live Theatre Workshop, 5317 E. Speedway, through August 21
  • Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m.; Sundays at 3 p.m.
  • Tickets are $18 with student, senior citizen and military discounts available. For reservations, call 327-4242 or email ltwreservations@qwestoffice.net

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