Lips Together, Teeth Apart: In brief
Two tense straight couples spend the Fourth of July amid the gay revelers of AIDS-era Fire Island in a revival of Terrence McNally's 1991 play. Peter DuBois's cast features America Ferrera, Michael Chernus, Austin Lysy and Time Out New York favorite Tracee Chimo.
Lips Together, Teeth Apart: Theater review by Adam Feldman
Revivals of plays by Terrence McNally are like tapered, acid-wash jeans: You’re sure people said they looked good in the ’90s, but it’s hard to remember why. Lips Together, Teeth Apart must have worked better in 1991, when it had a superb cast of comic actors, including Nathan Lane and Christine Baranski, and when its spoon-feeding messages about AIDS and gay acceptance at least seemed topical. Revived at Second Stage, however, its flaws are painfully exposed. So, to a fault, are the characters, two straight couples on a Fourth of July weekend on Fire Island, who explain themselves—often via plaintive direct address—in terms that ooze with purple self-pity. (One of them, on his cancer: “It will soon grow and ripen and flower in this fertile bed of malignancy that has somehow become my body.”) Halfway through, someone finally says a line that rings true: ”Shut up, please, shut up, all of you.”
A more coherent cast might have made these people seem like they exist in the same world, if not ours, but Peter DuBois’s ensemble does not. (There’s no sense of shared space; characters often are not supposed to hear loud talk just a few feet away.) The grievously miscast America Ferrera gives an amateurish performance as Sally, who has inherited a beach house that belonged to a brother she lost to AIDS. As her husband, Sam, Michael Chernus connects better with the audience but not exactly with the part; he’s too straightforward for McNally’s arch, incongruously gay-inflected jokes. The talented Tracee Chimo brings gusto to her showy role as Sam’s sister but sometimes pushes too hard, whereas Austin Lysy, as her pent-up husband, doesn’t quite push hard enough. The title refers to a technique to avoid grinding one’s teeth, which is one way an audience can respond to this play. I have a different suggestion: lips apart, tongue out.—Theater review by Adam Feldman
THE BOTTOM LINE A sometimes sparky cast can’t ignite this now-soggy box of fireworks.
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