It’s fairly common that people will compare their own circumstances with other people’s lives and come up feeling short, especially in the romance or financial departments in their own relationship. But as much as we may admire what others appear to have that we do not, when we learn the truth of what goes on behind closed doors, even the most wonderful of relationship can turn out to be not what it appears to be, proving the grass is not always greener on the other side of the fence… or boat for that matter.
SEPARATE BEDS, a romantic comedy written by M.J. Cruise and directed by Melanie MacQueen and produced by David Hunt Stafford at Theatre 40, introduces us to two couples on the same cruise in very different types of rooms and relationships with each of the couples portrayed by the same two actors, Daniel Leslie and Mona Lee Wylde who are very familiar to Theatre 40 audiences as they portray major characters in Theatre 40’s annual production of the hit show The Manor, a perennial favorite performed at the Greystone Mansion in Beverly Hills.
Couple #1 Ernie and Twink have been sent on the cruise by their kids for their 30th anniversary. Ernie owns a small hardware store in Northern California and is basically a very grumpy, henpecked husband. Twink is a thoroughly annoying nag, so much so it is a wonder poor Ernie can stand to be in the same room with her, let alone allow her to keep the store’s books so she can annoy him every moment of every day. The real problem between them seems to be the lack of tactile romance in their lives since they haven’t had marital relations in a while. In their state room, they’re sleeping in separate beds. Ah, the power of metaphor!
Can Ernie find a way to become romantic for Twink before he loses her forever? Or are they condemned to sleep in separate beds forever?
They spend a lot of their time in Act I recounting their meeting with a more glamorous couple at dinner the night before who we meet in Act II. Blake, a wealthy eyewear entrepreneur and his wife Beth, an actress, seem to have an ideal relationship and very successful lives. Blake gushes over Beth, frequently holding her hand and telling her how great she looks. She certainly craves the attention as she is waiting to hear from her agent about being cast in a movie with George Clooney, a real bonus since she is now recognized as the woman in a dog food commercial. They’ve been married 10 years, having met later in life which makes them about the same ages as Ernie and Twink. But the similarities seem to end there.
Why can’t Ernie and Twink be more like fun couple Blake and Beth, Twink wonders. She’s bored and talks incessantly, so much so that Ernie and Twink bore others around them. But Blake and Beth seem to always be the center of attention and life of any party while being able to spend money freely while demonstrating their love for each other at every opportunity. Surely their lives must be better given they are sleeping in a much more elegant suite with a king-size bed and romantic balcony on which they can bask together in the moonlight. But all is not necessarily as wonderful as it first appears. Are Blake and Beth really as happy behind closed doors as they appear to be to everyone else? Can Blake possibly forget about working on business deals with others on the boat and spend more time fulfilling the true emotional needs of his wife who just wants to focus on family and live a more ordinary life like Twink and Ernie?
Canadian playwright M.J. Cruise finds a way to make her characters’ predicaments very funny, but I fear MacQueen’s directorial interpretation of Twink makes the character even more annoying than she really has to be by allowing Wylde to speak in a monotone level in a voice reminiscent of nails on a chalkboard. In fact, she was so obnoxious, there was really nothing about her that was likable in any way until the very end of the show. In fact, I had difficulty sitting through Act I due to the monotonous nagging in a voice reminiscent of nails on a chalkboard.
Kudos to Michele Young’s costumes which so beautifully reflect the financial differences between each couple, and to Jeff G. Rack for another amazing set design, which requires two stagehands to change it into the many locations on the boat while actors are offstage changing costumes. Those two hard-working souls deserve applause after each scene change for their attention to details.
No doubt, the long-married may recognize aspects of themselves in Cruise’s characters and laugh while realizing how to keep the fires burning at home.