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 www.theatrehorizon.org