Literature 8-6-2006

Fringe Shorts: How to Cheat

"How to Cheat" is a great show, says Jaime Kleiman. It's showing at the U of M Rarig Center Arena on Sunday, 8/6 at 10:00 PM, Thursday 8/10 at 5:30 PM, and Saturday 8/12 at 7:00 PM; the New Theater Group does it.

How to Cheat

Because this is a Fringe show and because it only has three performances left, I’m going to cut to the chase:How To Cheat is really, really good.

Playwright Alan Berks has written a two-hander starring Randy Reyes and Emily Gunyou, about two people who—you guessed it—have an affair. The basic story is as follows: Meredith (Gunyou) and Louie (Reyes) are at a fancy, rich people party. They get a little drunk and admit to each other that they can’t stand the shallow attempts at wit and the prejudices of the privileged white folk, so they run off and hide in an abandoned room full of toys from the late 70’s—what Louie nostalgically calls the “future antiques” of his childhood—and the seduction begins.

How To Cheat takes us through one night, from the beginning of Meredith and Louie’s coyly erotic dance to the eruption of the morning after. Though it calls to mind plays like Harold Pinter’s Betrayal and John Guare’s Six Degrees of Separation, it is most definitely its own thing. Nor does it pull a Same Time, Next Year and reduce a night of passion to a lifetime of escapism and contentment. (Oddly, all of these plays have recently been produced by the Jungle. Don’t really know what that means, except that Berks and director Brian Balcom’s originality trumps all of those productions.)

Anyone who’s cheated on their lover or spouse will probably identify with Gunyou’s character, a woman torn between her own unhappiness and the noose on her finger. For his part, Reyes’ Louie, a biochemist and self-described womanizer, feels no moral quandaries whatsoever until he realizes that Meredith has not only leapt into his pants, but also into his heart.

Director Balcom guides the actors with a firm and knowing hand. His mark is all over it (as is Brian Sostek’s playful choreography), and Berks had the luxury of writing with Gunyou and Reyes in mind. It’s a happy collaboration that shows everyone at their best.

How To Cheat is full of many surprises, including the hottest, most inventive coitus I’ve ever seen on the stage. Don’t worry—it’s not bawdy or cheap and it doesn’t involve massive amounts of spit. Like many things in this lovingly constructed play, it’s not what you expect. It’s better.