Thursday, July 30, 2015

Review: An Infinite Ache

An Infinite Ache, reviewed by Wendy Rosenfield, written by David Schulner, produced by Theatre Horizon, directed by Megan Nicole O'Brien, featuring Bi Jean Ngo and Griffin Stanton Ameisen.

Review: An Infinite Ache


By Wendy Rosenfield

for the Inquirer

The thesis behind David Schulner’s An Infinite Ache is that regular folks fall in love, and they, too, deserve their moment in the spotlight. Or, as Charles, the male half of this couple whose entire 50-year relationship and marriage we’re about to watch, explains, “I’m just an ordinary guy. Nobody tells us how ordinary people should love.” Theatre Horizon agrees, and indulges Schulner with an utterly run-of-the-mill production.

The problems with Schulner’s thesis are many. First, no one thinks they’re ordinary--and certainly no one who works in a coffeehouse and aspires to be a historian/novelist. Second, the thing about love is that it makes everyone feel extraordinary, as though our love is the first and best, and unique in the history of all loves, ever. Third, nobody tells anyone how to love. Examples exist everywhere: grandiose, understated, clandestine, whatever, but we all cobble together our resources and histories and combine them to stutter-step our way into a relationship no other two people have or will have. When the ordinary turns extraordinary, that’s something worth watching.  

And so, Jewish Charles (Griffin Stanton-Ameisen) and Chinese/Filipino Hope (Bi Jean Ngo, should be far more interesting than they are. Through a survey of their breakups, depression, parenting traumas--strangely, until their gentler final years--they remain painfully dull and unrealistic. Would that Schulner concentrated this play around a signature moment in this couple’s lives, rather than dimming the lights and including snippets of conversational touchpoints to mark the passage of time: I’m off to work; it’s your turn to change the baby; first day of school; those darn teenagers. 

Don’t blame Ngo, one of Philly’s finest comedic actors, who gives a pulse to this completely humorless role. Go ahead and blame Stanton-Ameisen, whose delivery favors stagey pronouncements rather than conversation. And certainly blame director Megan Nicole O’Brien, who misses every chance for levity (Charles sneaks into his old house and waters the plants; that’s funny! Except not here.) and instead flatlines both Schulner’s highs and lows. The evening I attended, with Horizon's OK, was a preview, so perhaps the audience’s equally flatlined response might encourage opening night directorial changes. But this show is up against some serious competition for Valentine’s Day audiences, and some of those do a much better job of explaining how ordinary people--when onstage--should love.

Playing at: Theatre Horizon, 401 DeKalb St., Norristown. Through Sun., Feb. 17. Tickets: $25 to $31. Information: 610-283-2230 or


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About this blog

Toby Zinman's night job since 2006 is theater critic for the Inquirer where she reviews New York and London as well as Philadelphia. Her day job: Prize-winning prof at UArts, author of five books about modern and contemporary drama, and doer of scholarly deeds (winner of five NEH grants, Fulbright lecturer at Tel Aviv University, visiting professor in China). She was recently named by American Theatre magazine "one of the twelve most influential critics in America."

Wendy Rosenfield has written freelance features and theater reviews for The Inquirer since 2006. She was theater critic for the Philadelphia Weekly from 1995 to 2001, after which she enjoyed a five-year baby-raising sabbatical. She serves on the board of the American Theatre Critics Association, was a participant in the Bennington Writer's Workshop, a 2008 NEA/USC Fellow in Theater and Musical Theater, and twice was guest critic for the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival's Region II National Critics Institute. She received her B.A. from Bennington College and her M.L.A. from the University of Pennsylvania. She also is a fiction writer, was proofreader to a swami, publications editor for the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, and spends all her free time working out and driving people places. Follow her on Twitter @WendyRosenfield.

Jim Rutter has reviewed theater for The Inquirer since September, 2011. Since 2006, he covered dance, theater and opera for the Broad Street Review, and has also written for many suburban newspapers, including The Main Line Times. In 2009, the National Endowment for the Arts awarded him a Fellowship in Arts Journalism. Thames & Hudson released his updated and revised version of Ballet and Modern Dance in June, 2012. From 1998 to 2005, he taught philosophy and logic at Drexel, and then Widener University. He also coaches Olympic Weightlifting for Liberty Barbell, and has competed at the national level in that sport since 2001.

Merilyn Jackson regularly writes on dance for The Inquirer and other publications. She specializes in the arts, literature, food, travel, and Eastern European culture and politics. In 2001, she was dance critic in residence at the Festival of Contemporary Dance in Bytom, Poland; in 2005, she received an NEA Critics’ Fellowship to Duke University’s Institute for Dance Criticism. She likes to say that dance was her first love but that when she discovered writing she began to cheat on dance. Now that she writes about dance, she’s made an honest woman of herself, although she also writes poetry.

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