Shoeless Theatre Company

at Victory Gardens Studio Theater

Maybe it’s just me, but lately it seems like young writers have this eerily unanimous skill at writing Woody Allen shtick. You want nebbishes? They all do great nebbishes. Loopy sexual self-deprecation? In their sleep. Cutely psychotic Jewish relations? Hey, they’re on sale this week.

It makes me think they must offer classes in this: On the blackboard, the teacher writes, “My first wife was so immature. When I was taking a bath, she’d come in and sink all my boats.” “Go home and write 25 variations on that,” he tells the roomful of Wood-be’s. “Tomorrow I’ll show you how to turn them into a play.”

If most of those class projects came out looking like Marilyn and Marc, it wouldn’t be such a bad thing. You can really see a sense of professionalism in Steve Feffer’s script. He’s working with minimal dramatic resources–a nebbishy grad student and his girlfriend, a slender thread of plot, a few loopy, self-deprecatory monologues–but he keeps it all moving. There are lots of jokes, some of them not old enough to drink. There’s a twist or two. There’s even–except for a patch in the middle, when both characters stand around for what seems like an hour yelling “fuck you”–a sense of pace. It doesn’t wash, finally, but it isn’t going to send you out of the theater gnashing your teeth.

So count your blessings. One of them, certainly, is Kenny Williams, who brings a light touch to his portrayal of Marc. Marc is a grad student at NYU. His thesis is on Jews and baseball in literature, and when he’s not working on it, which is to say all the time, he mostly gets drunk or mopes about the women in his Literature of the Holocaust class. Williams has a nice way with the character, especially in the shaggy-dog monologues that punctuate the play. (The funniest, a queasy yarn about having an artificial testicle implanted, steals the first act.) Williams takes it easy, goes for intimacy, and lets the laughs take care of themselves. The character he builds in the monologues doesn’t quite match the whining, wavering Marc we meet in the dialogue scenes, though, and that becomes a real problem later on.

Later meaning when Marilyn comes on the scene. Marilyn has a job working on the Macy’s parade. She lives in Hoboken. She’s divorced from an Israeli she met on a high school trip. A walking vision of erotic promise, if you’re Marc. They meet, they screw around, they go to Cape Cod for the weekend, and, predictably, they fall deeply . . .

In love? Nah. Into combat, each using weapons they’d be better off leaving buried in the arsenal. He mopes and wavers and flaunts his ineptitude, the bad side of the genuine niceness she likes in him. She taunts him with her sexual experience and daring: She started dreaming of lovemaking in the second grade, she tells him. She wouldn’t let herself get pregnant for her child-mad Israeli husband, then reveled as he prayed over her “naked except for his yarmulke, chanting beside our bed, erect. It was holy and sacred,” Marilyn says. “There were candles.”

The battle shapes up. Marilyn offers “the erotic opportunities of a lifetime.” Before you know it, the deal is struck and they’re looking for a hooker for a threesome. And before you know it, she’s at his throat, tearing into him for his beastly desires, his total disregard for her, and the astonishing fact that he couldn’t see through the pack of lies she was feeding him all along.

This is the spot where the play drifts off into yelling and “fuck you.” That’s a shame, because it’s also the point where things get interesting. Marilyn as D.H. Lawrence’s kind of gal was mostly a pain in the ass. Marilyn faking it–using her imagination and energy and sexuality to snare a difficult, reticent, but basically worthwhile man–starts to get interesting. You wait for the playwright to crack the veneer and let us see inside this woman. And Seana Kofoed, the other blessing in the production, has set us up well for the moment. She resists the temptation to make Marilyn attractive to us. She saves that for Marc and lets us see the aggression, the manipulation.

Unfortunately, this is a two-character play, and the other character is not available at the moment for cracking anybody open. He’s on the floor in a state of personality breakdown, making a hash out of everything we learned about him in his monologues. It’s kind of sad. You want to pick him up and say, “Don’t worry about it, Marc. It’s not your fault. You and Marilyn just outgrew your genre.”

As I said, you’re not going to walk out gnashing your teeth. But there’s enough talent here (including director Dai Parker-Gwilliam) to make the script’s limitations all the more disappointing. What do you do? I picture a classroom, and a teacher who says, “Tonight go home and actually care about something, and tomorrow I’ll try to teach you how to keep caring while you write.”