If you Google the word “smirk,” you will find definitions revolving around the idea of offensive smugness. And that’s a pretty good capsule description of All This Intimacy by Rajiv Joseph. It’s now at Ensemble Theatre as part of their Second Season of shows in their smaller studio theater.
Joseph, the gifted playwright from Cleveland Heights who penned the marvelous Huck & Holden and the much-acclaimed Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo (and whose Animals Out Of Paper is still playing Ensemble's main stage), here pounds out a symphony of wrong notes.
While director Aaron Elersich crafts a few scenes that work quite well, and the ending is thankfully downbeat, the two hours getting to that point are a hard slog.
Ty is a young-ish poetry phenom who had a collection of his verse hit the best-seller list. It was about a man who had a super power enabling him to turn anything into a complicated maze.
So now Ty is a poetry professor on the make and, as we learn in the first scene, has impregnated three women: his next-door neighbor, married adoptive mom Maureen; his poetry student Becca; and his girlfriend Jen. He's created a labyrinth with no way out, just like his poetry protagonist, get it?
This is all meant to set up a climactic second act where, just like a contrived episode of I Love Lucy, all the women are nonsensically invited by Ty to a dinner where he will announce his fatherhood to all assembled. Hoo-boy, Ty, you got some ‘splainin’ to do! Of course, this is all splained by the playwright in excruciating detail early on, so there are no surprises.
Having quickly dispensed with any sort of mystery or sense of discovery, Joseph then proceeds to force-feed the audience simplistic truths about making bad choices and self-centeredness. Ty’s supposedly introspective moments (“Where did I go wrong?”) are overwhelmed by a testosterone-fueled smirk that runs through the whole script.
This isn’t helped by Ryan Edlinger, who plays Ty with an almost continual toothy smile that is his default facial expression for every emotion. This makes it almost impossible to get a true reading on Ty’s inner emotional journey (if there is one) and eventually just becomes grating and tiresome. But he does provide one breakthrough: Who knew you could smirk while grinning?
The talented actor Jeremy Jenkins doesn’t fare much better as Ty’s best pal Seth, starting off in mid-hysteria and then mugging for most of the show. Thankfully, as his sharp-tongued fiancee Franny, Katie Simon Atkinson puts together a wickedly funny character.
And the other three women mostly hold up their end of this bad bargain. Kay Rommel exudes Freshman spunk as Becca, Laura Rauh is a believable Maureen, and Natalie Green survives as Jen in an underwritten part that should be more interesting than it is.
But lets face it, Joseph isn’t as interested in the women as he is in celebrating the spooge-fest that smug Ty is orchestrating. And even though his comeuppance eventually comes up, it’s a long and obvious trip getting there.
All This Intimacy
Through October 27 ay Ensemble Theatre, 2843 Washington Blvd., Cleveland Heights, 216-321-2930