by Paulanne Simmons
The longest trip on San Francisco’s Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) is about an hour and 20 minutes, but Janet and Josh manage to ride for an hour and a half in Jerry Mayer’s new comedy, 2 Across, now making its premiere at St. Luke’s Theatre, in a production helmed by Evelyn Rudie. This is a minor glitch in a play filled with unlikely, if pleasant twists.
In fact, during this eventful hour and a half, there’s not another soul in their car (nicely reproduced by Scott Heineman), which seems somewhat odd, even though it’s early in the morning. But Josh (Kip Gilman), and Janet (Andrea McArdle) certainly take advantage of their time together.
Josh is Jewish. Janet is Christian. Josh is unemployed. Janet is a psychologist. They both share a love of crossword puzzles. And this is what brings them together.
During their trip, Janet and Josh help each other with difficult words. What’s more, Josh helps Janet become a better parent to her rebellious adolescent. And they both learn new ways of dealing with people of the opposite sex. When the train pulls into its final station, we can be pretty sure not only will their attraction grow; they will most certainly marry and probably live happily ever after.
2 Across, however, is a comedy, so one should not be too particular about verisimilitude. Yet surely we can expect something more in a play than endless conversation, even if it is often clever and sometimes funny. But Mayer has limited his possibilities at the very beginning by setting his story in a commuter train car and confining his cast to two characters.
Where the show succeeds it’s because those two characters are played by pros who make them so likable we don’t ask certain obvious questions about motivations and outcomes (specifics here would ruin the surprise element), and so quick with their comebacks we sometimes don’t notice how slowly time is going by.
Mayer, who has had an impressive career writing and producing such shows as The Bob Newhart Show, All in the Family and The Mary Tyler Moore Show, certainly knows his way around sitcoms.
In fact, 2 Across is written much like three episodes in a series. First half hour, Josh helps Janet heal the rift with her son who has just joined the marines. Second half hour, Josh woos and wins Janet’s heart, although she has a few reservations. Third half hour, these reservations are removed as the truths they are both hiding are revealed.
Any one of these episodes might have worked on television. In theater, they become tedious.
2 Across is in an open-ended run at St. Luke’s Theatre, 308 West 46th Street, between 8th and 9th Avenues. www.stlukestheatre.com.
Photos: Carol Rosegg