|Andrea McArdle and Kip Gilman. Photo: Carol Rosegg|
By Lauren Yarger
What's an eight-letter word beginning with a "C" that describes a two-hander about a guy and a girl who meet on a train?
In the case of 2 Across, the new comedy by Jerry Mayer (a writer for TV shows like “M*A*S*H,” “The Bob Newhart Show” and “All in the Family”) Off-Broadway at St. Luke's Theatre, the answer is "c-h-a-r-m-i-n-g" -- and you can use that "i" to fill in the word "surprising" going down on the crossword puzzle grid, because the "two people meet and spill out the details of their lives" plot is a hard one to pull off on stage.
Mayer gets help from the charm of the actors here: Andrea McArdle (Broadway's original Annie, all grown up) and Kip Gilman (Aspirins and Elephants), directed by Evelyn Rudie. Janet (McArdle) and Josh (Gilman) meet aboard a Bay Area Rapid Transit train, each doing the New York Times crossword puzzle. At first, snobby Janet (she does her puzzle in pen) isn't interested in conversation with the affable Josh (who does his in pencil), who asks for some help with clues tot he puzzle.
But before long, the two are opening up about their lives: she's a psychologist and is worried about her 18-year-old son who has just joined the Marines, presumably on a whim. He left behind his family button-making factory, but now finds himself unemployed and on his way to an interview for a job he doesn't really want.
"Something pre-ordained is happening here," Josh finally says when the two find themselves attracted to each other despite their spouses and start entertaining the thought of an affair. All is not as it seems, however -- more importantly the plot doesn't take us down the predictable plot we think it is going to -- and we find as Josh and Janet do, that a lot can be learned about someone's character by how they complete a crossword, or solve the puzzles of life.
The charm of the story and the engaging characters developed by the actors are a pleasant surprise. The development of the relationship, played out in real time almost seems plausible, but that quiet train doesn't. I wish MetroNorth trains looked so nice (set design is by Scott Heineman, with train sound effects provided to enhance the commute) and were so roomy. Josh actually stretches out across unoccupied seats and the couple are able to change seats in the otherwise unoccupied car. Maybe I should just start covering theater in San Francisco where the real BART provides service.....
The play is performed in 90 minutes with no intermission.
2 Across plays through Jan. 31 at St. Luke's Theare, 308 West 46th St., NYC. Performnces are Wednesday and Saturday at 8 pm; Sunday at 2pm. Tickets are $39.50 - $69.50: 2acrosstheplay.com; 212-239-6200.
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-- God's name taken in vain