Who says you can’t find love on a train? Trains are very romantic. Anything can happen on a train. And it does to the two star-crossed maybe/maybe-not lovers in Jerry Mayer’s new comedy, 2 Across at St. Luke's Theatre. Evelyn Rudie (Eloise, among many others), directs a cast that stars award-winning performers, Andrea McArdle and Kip Gilman. Streamlined direction and crisp performances keep this tête-a-tête comedy rolling down the tracks on an early morning commute for an entertaining look at love and the lonely.
Two commuters on a San Francisco BART train meet and duke it out over The New York Times crossword puzzle. And the battle of the sexes is on. Janet, played by Andrea McArdle (polished actress of Annie fame), is a psychiatrist who has just said goodbye to her son who joined the Marines against her wishes. Josh, played by actor extraordinaire Kip Gilman, is an out-of-work advertising man. She is a control freak; he is a freewheeler. They clash.You can always tell a person by the way they do a crossword. And they learn much about each other and themselves as they roll down the tracks competing with their puzzles. Josh inadvertently helps her with her son and she helps him regain his confidence to find a job. As they build up and let down their barriers of emotional baggage, we can relate to the inner yearnings of these two lonely people. After “Granite” Janet’s strategy of helping Josh finish the crossword and tearing down her defenses, they find they are just two vulnerable people with the thought of the romantic possibilities.
Full of quick banter reminiscent of the great classic sitcoms such as "Mash" from which Mayer is renowned, 2 Across is stylish and witty. Gilman is a mix of Al Pacino and Alan Alda; a bit quirky, yet macho, and very charming. Used to enticing women with his wits, Josh is surprised to learn that he has a certain physical appeal as well. McArdle is gorgeous as a neurotic Mary Tyler Moore type. The perfect romantic touch is when Josh recites classic love poems to woo her. All it takes to let her defenses down is poetry, a sandwich and a couple of mini bottles. This is true of any woman, right? Josh finally lowers her stoic resistance and by the time it is their stop, she has conceded she will meet him… or not.
Rudie’s lively direction kept the candid dialogue going. The train setting, designed by Scott Heineman, was so detailed; the intercom voice, the sounds and seats were all so specific. But when the actors stood up, there was no acknowledgement of a moving train. They could have made subtle moves to indicate the jumps and jolts of the train to create the feeling that they were in fact travelling. As nimble as these performers were, there could have been choreographed in-sync movements once or twice that would have really enhanced the overall effect. This is only a minor detail in an otherwise seamless performance by an ensemble of consummate professionals.
At curtain call, they sang a lovely duet that was probably the best part of the show. The play definitely lends itself to music. It would have enhanced the evening to hear more of McArdle’s exquisite singing. She is absolutely gorgeous, but the writing somewhat stifled her, often giving Gilman the wittier lines and more freedom of interpretive movement. The humor at times was a tad bit too old school machismo. McArdle was stymied as the uptight straight liner who gives into the stronger, wiser male. Women are increasingly evolving away from these roles.
But the script was true to life. We trusted the writer and felt safe in the familiar dialogue of two resistant, yet hopeful lovers. Who hasn’t had a fantasy about the person across the aisle doing their crossword, too? We all have those dreams of running away with a stranger on a train. Don’t we?
Jerry Mayer’s 2 Across is in an open-ended run at St. Luke’s Theatre (308 West 46th St. between 8th and 9th Aves.) in Manhattan. Evening performances are at 8 p.m. on Wednesday and Saturday. Matinees are at 2 p.m. on Sunday. Tickets are $39.50 and can be purchased by calling 212-239-6200 or visiting Telecharge.com. For more information, visit 2AcrossThePlay.com.