At the start of Michael Weller’s Loose Ends, splashing waves are projected onto a screen that is surrounded by photo collages as two lovebirds embrace each other on a moonlit Balinese beach in 1970. Sensitive Paul (Loren Bidner) courts distant Susan (Sarah Mae Vink) as he shares with her his exotic adventures in the Peace Corps. Susan childishly responds by retelling the story of when she was 11 years old and had her tonsils cremated. Their passionate moment in seclusion suddenly fizzles out when Susan’s offbeat, chatterbox friend, Janice (Melanie Glancy), finds them with her trusty flashlight. Janice is worried because Susan never returned from her evening walk.
Loose Ends follows the trials and tribulations of Susan and Paul’s life together in the Northeast. Their rocky relationship quickly starts showing signs of cracking when they visit their friends Maraya (Maggie Alexander) and Doug (Erik Endsley) in the New Hampshire countryside. The couple live together in a camper trailer with a newborn, and their front yard is a construction zone, but they are happy and horny compared to Susan and Paul’s dry relationship. Susan asks Maraya, “Was it strange at first? Being with just one guy?” Susan confides that she did not intend on living with someone until later in her life. At the end of their conversation, Maraya asks, “Are you O.K.?” Susan sheepishly replies, “Sure.”
In fact, throughout the play Susan and Paul are asked, in one way or another, if everything is “O.K.”—which leaves one to wonder: What is really going on with this couple? Weller’s drama has to be more than trying to choose between a family or career, or both, during the seventies. Yet the depth of their problems, and even their backstories, is never entirely explored, although it’s often implied that something is going horribly awry and that audiences should be fully invested in this story. The climaxes do not lead to powerful payoffs but more or less take the characters back to where they originally started.
Beginning with a Balinese fisherman smitten with Janice, various undeveloped characters arbitrarily show up, lending a viewer hope that they will move the story forward or eventually reappear. But they are used only as short-lived comic relief. When Janice is going through her Indian spirituality phase in 1974, she introduces Paul to her esoteric boyfriend, Russell (Ivan Sandomire), who acts more like her own personal guru than her beau. Russell gives short, simplistic answers that sound like some new form of haiku, such as, “Swan. Greyhound. Animals. Travel. Animals carrying people to new places.”
The comedic interplay works well between the airy-fairy couple, with Paul as the observer, because Russell’s demeanor remains calm, quiet and in control as Janice blabs foolishly about their experiences with their master in an ashram. Sandomire and Glancy play off each other so naturally that their pacing feels instinctive, and they give the audience just enough time to catch up to their subtle game of humor.
Vink and Bidner, unfortunately, have weak chemistry. Their relationship feels forced: even in their choreographed movements, when they are naked and wrapped up in a sheet together, they still appear mechanical. On the other hand, Glancy’s portrayal of Janice is a standout. She is present and remarkably committed to her character choices throughout her performance. Early on, when Janice is faced with a dilemma—her non-English-speaking admirer, a shirtless, Balinese fisherman (Teruaki Akai), offers her a fish he caught—Glancy takes an awkward scene and makes it believable by remaining true to her character as she gives the fisherman some money for the fish and then shoos him away.
Well-known and respected acting teacher Terry Schreiber, of T. Schreiber Studio, directs this production. Schreiber and his team do bring the vibe of the seventies back to life, and the costumes by Hope Governali are wisely designed to accentuate each character’s personality.
However, there remain challenges to work out in this production, such as the slow transitions between the scenes and the overall pacing—advertised to run for two hours, the production actually runs closer to three. In addition, too much time is spent on the performer’s backs and profiles when they could perfectly well be facing the audience. Still, for those who actually lived through the seventies, Loose Ends will carry them back to this nostalgic era.
Michael Weller’s Loose Ends runs through April 15 at T. Schreiber Theatre (151 West 26th St., 7th floor, between Sixth and Seventh avenues) in Manhattan. Evening performances are at 8 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday and matinees are at 2 p.m. on March 29 and April. 12. Tickets cost $22, $30 and $40. To purchase tickets, call OvationTix at (866) 811-4111 or visit tschreiber.org.