Victory Gardens Studio Theater

“Sex makes fools of everybody,” says a character in Romulus Linney’s April Snow. Hardly an original thought, but no less true for being a cliche. In April Snow and Can-Can, a pair of brief one-acts receiving their Chicago premieres, Linney tries to find new truths among the old cliches.

April Snow focuses on romantic travails among the New York literary set, and aims at the piquant, bittersweet kind of screwball comedy we associate with Noel Coward. Gordon Tate, a 61-year-old writer–four times married, four times divorced–is on the brink of a new affair with 20-year-old Millicent, who is just recovering from a mental breakdown. Grady, Gordon’s ex-wife and a lesbian, warns Gordon against getting involved with someone so young and unstable, and then proceeds to moan about her own ongoing problems with a young, unstable lover. After a brief late-night encounter with a trio of “killer fruits”–the sort of social-climbing dilettantes who populate the pages of Andy Warhol’s diary–Gordon realizes that while he can’t live with Millicent or Grady, he can’t live without ’em, either; the three come up with their own design for living as the lights dim.

In Can-Can, the evening’s very brief curtain raiser, Linney is concerned with the lives of more ordinary folk. The play, presented as a chamber reading with the actors sitting on stools, is a quartet of interlocking monologues spoken by two couples: a southern GI and his French girlfriend, and a middle-class housewife and the rural southern woman who entices her into an extramarital affair. The stories of how the lovers meet, mate, and separate are told in tandem, as Linney constructs the speeches like four interweaving melodies in a string quartet.

The common theme in these two plays is love and language: how people’s feelings are expressed and even shaped by the words they use to describe those feelings. While the simple, plainspoken folks in Can-Can address their emotions directly and vividly, the articulate intellectuals in April Snow use language as a defense mechanism to rationalize or deny their elemental and embarrassing desires.

In order to work, the plays need actors who can bring language to life as a vital element of the characters’ being. In Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune, playing across the hall at Body Politic, a fairly commonplace romantic comedy takes on memorable force because of the visceral energy Kathy Bates and Tony Campisi bring to the dialogue. April Snow director Terry McCabe has had no such luck in casting his production; the actors fail utterly to find anything beyond the surface narrative in their lines. The problem is especially acute in April Snow, with its witty, self-mocking characters: instead of irony and self-awareness, we get nothing but morose self-pity. The intended contrast between the simple honesty of the people in Can-Can and the self-deceiving verbosity of the people in April Snow is completely lost. Everybody talks the same–in the boring cliches that Linney is trying so hard to escape.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Jennifer Girard.