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Clever shorts play well in ‘Duets’

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Bride-to-be Angela (Karen Valasek) seeks reassurance from her brother Toby (Peter Clark) moments before her wedding.

Three wigs and four pairs of talented actors are key components in the Actors Group’s season-opening production of Peter Quilter’s contemporary comedy "Duets." The play is only a year old, but the concept and presentation come straight from "Love American Style" — four short, cleverly constructed stories about people searching for some combination of love, companionship and happiness.

The wigs all appear before intermission.

Ron Heller (Jonathan) and Patrice Scott (Wendy) star in "Blind Dates" as "hopeful" singles who are meeting for the first time after replying to ads in a singles magazine. He’s nervous, confesses early on that he has a tendency to talk too much when he doesn’t know what to say — and proves the point.

She’s doesn’t drink, and so instead of bringing a bottle of wine to their meeting presents him with a large wheel of cheese.

TAG wig-wrangler Greg Howell renders Heller unrecognizable with a do that might have been stylish in the disco era; Carlynn Wolfe (costume design) completes Heller’s makeover with a brown polyester suit of similar vintage. Scott performs in a two-tone copper-red wig that clashes with her dress.

The interplay is nimble, the ebb and flow from romantic comedy to farce and back again is smooth and unpredictable. Except for a reference to Viagra and the characters’ use of cell phones, the sketch could easily be set in the ’70s.


» Where: The TAG Theatre, 650 Iwilei Road, Suite 101
» When: 7:30 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays, through Sept. 19
» Cost: $20 general admission Fridays through Sundays; $15 for seniors; $12 for students, military and groups of 10 or more; $10 general admission for everyone on Thursdays
» Info: 722-6941 or www.taghawaii.net

Richard Valasek (Barrie) and Allyson West (Janet) take the stage in "Secretarial Skills." Barrie is a wealthy gay man with health problems who needs someone to look after him. Janet is his loyal and very capable personal assistant; she’s heterosexual and single, with no romantic prospects on the horizon.

TAG director David C. Farmer could have had Valasek go for cheap laughs playing Barrie as an exaggeratedly effeminate type. The hackneyed stereotype would have been an easy sell given Valasek’s imposing height and bulk — and the wig Howell has prepared for him. Instead, the broad effeminate aspects are brought down enough to make Barrie an interesting three-dimensional character who amounts to more than his sexual preference.

West does her bit convincingly in gradually revealing the quiet desperation beneath the smiles and laughter of the devoted employee.

Breaking up can be hard to do, and Quilter develops that theme beautifully in "The Holiday." John Wythe White (Bobby) and Victoria Gail-White (Shelley) play a couple who filed for divorce after they’d paid for a nonrefundable Mexican vacation. Rather than lose the money, they go to Mexico and share a suite. She’s drunk and flirty with everybody; he’s "tipsy" and wondering whether he should go home early.

White is always good at playing guys who are basically decent but mired in problematic situations. Gail-White’s ability to play screwball comedy one moment and straight drama the next is crucial to the success of several key moments.

Peter Clark (Toby) and Karen Valasek (Angela) keep their British accents tidy and firmly in place in "The Bride to Be." She’s having last-minute doubts as the time comes to go downstairs and marry her third husband.

He is her older brother, a man of impeccable taste and a confirmed bachelor for life. She wants his approval — of the man she’s marrying, maybe, but certainly of the gown she’s chosen for the occasion.

Clark doesn’t appear on the local stage often enough. His work in a seemingly simple role is a fine reminder of what he’s capable of. The same can be said of Valasek; she proves equal to all the role demands of her.

Throughout "Duets" expat British playwright Quilter delights with his skillful use of comedy and irony. However, between the malapropisms and sight gags, he comments with equal effectiveness on the human need for love — or, at the least, companionship.


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