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Chamberlayne Actors Theatre's "Alone Together"

Not-So-Empty Nest


Whether you truly enjoy "Alone Together," the loose and amiable comedy currently playing at Chamberlayne Actors Theatre, may depend entirely on whether you have children or not. If you do, you'll immediately relate to the predicament of George and Helene Butler (Don Byrne and Jacqueline Jones). At the beginning of the play, they send their youngest son off to college and rejoice in their newly empty nest. But before they can even get naked in front of the fireplace, their oldest son returns home, followed shortly by son No. 2. Both sons settle in to stay, and with the luster of their golden years growing increasingly tarnished, the couple keeps comically misfiring in their attempts to get the kids to shove off.

The show gets a lot of mileage out of the total cluelessness of the returning sons as they nonchalantly trample on their parents' new freedom. The oldest, Michael (Buddie Bishop), is a Ph.D. mathematician at MIT who is frustrated by his research and petulantly decides he will pursue science instead. His experiments soon threaten to burn down the house. It is revealed that the second son, Elliot (David Rain Wilkerson), has been regularly cheating on his wife, who finally kicks him out. So he starts remodeling his old bedroom into a Playboy love retreat. While the Butler's youngest son doesn't move back in, he does send to his parents a homeless and comely waif, Janie (Kady Fleckenstein), thereby adding sexual tension to the mix. While the mayhem never reaches the frantic level of farce, there is plenty of yelling and door slamming before the final curtain.

All of this plays out pleasantly enough in the CAT production. Director David Gau has a good sense of timing and he gets able assistance from some winning performances. Jones and Byrne are generally believable as parents whose unselfish love turns them into doormats. As they start to rebel against the invading horde, Jones in particular delivers some zinging one-liners. Bishop and Wilkerson manage to be amusingly despicable in totally different ways — Bishop with his haughty self-involvement and Wilkerson with his unrepentant chauvinism.

But there is something schizophrenic and ultimately jarring about this play. Beneath its breezy comic surface, there is a dark underbelly of betrayal, loss and bitterness. This subtext is exploited in two of the show's best scenes. First, a touching heart-to-heart between Helene and Janie shows the damage that can be inflicted by unloving parents. Then, Michael shows almost savage objectivity in the climactic confrontation where he finally reveals the real reason he left MIT. This darkness drives the play, but Gau never fully comes to grips with it. Furthermore, Jones and Byrne seem to falter when they have to tap into deeper emotions.

Finally, what about those theatergoers who have never had kids or don't have them yet? This play may force them to imagine their parents itching for the kids to get out of the house so they can do the horizontal bop by firelight. And who wants to think about their parents that

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