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Acme Arts Company

at the Edgewater Theatre Company

We all know that television has ruined America. Thanks to that little glowing box, our great national debates have become simpleminded and embarrassing: Burn the flag–yes or no? Spike Lee’s new movie–thumbs up or thumbs down? Complex issues and complicated problems are of course excluded from the dialogue because the medium can’t deal with ideas that take longer than ten seconds to explain. So we get national elections based on a few repeated images and a couple of painfully reductionist slogans, and a body politic unable (or more likely unwilling) to grasp the finer points of any side of a political argument.

Television has been most devastating in the home, where it reinforces isolation, encouraging the depressed, the passive, the lonely to ignore their problems and escape into the glamorous and exciting world of TV, where everyone is witty and pretty, and every problem is solved before the last commercial.

Sharing Expenses concerns one such lost soul–Cora Mae Barber–an aging TV addict who is so attached to her TV that she can’t bear to have it off even as a moving company packs up her things. Her future is a mystery she doesn’t seem interested in exploring, and her past is a hopelessly confused blur of old TV programs and half-remembered moments from a life long on quiet desperation and short on adventure.

Authors Phil Martini and Tim Sauers don’t do anything to help her. Fixated on the idea of using any means possible to represent Cora Mae’s confused consciousness onstage, the two never seem to have considered the possibility that this woman’s mind might not make the most riveting material for a two-act drama. (Do we really need to go to theater to see someone piss away their life sitting in front of a TV?)

No surprise–Cora Mae is a bore. Like most TV addicts, she loves to rattle on and on about her favorite TV shows, pronouncing judgment on game-show contestants (thumbs up, Paul Lynde; thumbs down, Burt Reynolds) and professing undying love for her favorite shows (Love Connection, Classic Concentration). Only very rarely does she reveal the woman behind the TV addict, and when she does we see someone who passed her life like a ghost and who is unaware of how much she missed.

Martini and Sauers’s rough, unfocused, and constantly digressive script does little to make Cora Mae’s uninteresting life compelling. They seem to have been overwhelmed with the myriad possibilities of the stage, and the result is that instead of telling Cora’s story simply and clearly–which would have produced a very short, only mildly tedious one-act–they junked up their play with all kinds of silly effects. And so we get, for example, “fantasy” versions of Cora Mae and her sister acting out some decisive moment in their lives in a style vaguely reminiscent of a few of Cora Mae’s other favorite shows (The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Santa Barbara)–which succeeds only in padding out an already long and boring play.

As director, Sauers does what he can to make his lifeless script stageworthy, but there isn’t much one can do with a play that prefers talk to action, and trivial talk about celebrities and TV shows to essential feelings, hopes, and fears.

This is a shame, because a respectable nonequity cast was assembled for this project. Deborah Maddox turns in a quite capable performance as Cora Mae. And Shannon Branham, seen earlier this season in a mildly wooden performance as Maud Gonne in Maura, displays remarkable charm, versatility, and even a spark or two of comic talent as “Fantasy Cora Mae.” Her imitation of Mary Tyler Moore is one of the show’s few high points. But even a cast of equity stars couldn’t have saved what at this point is still an early draft of a play.