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Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: Review: Zoom-made ‘Couples’ clever, zippy in Oshkosh

Critic At Large

Oshkosh Community Players

Cast of “Couples,” top row, from left – Sally Toland, Andrea Young, Jayda Messer; middle row, from left – Michelle Ruzek, Booras, Brad Dokken; bottom – Jill Knetter. (Oshkosh Community Players screenshot)

OSHKOSH, Wis. (WFRV) – Three couples are seeing a marriage counselor by Zoom group sessions.

Troubles are told, advice is given, three little drama/comedies play out, and the online audience is a fly on the wall.

Not only do the couples get therapy, the audience for the play “Couples” can learn along – and laugh often enough.

“Couples” is double-edged therapy – one of awareness and one of humor.

In an unusual way, “Couples” is one of the little bonus products of the coronavirus COVID-19.

Oshkosh Community Players is connecting with its audience – and who knows who else around the Internet – in a format fit for circumstances.

In introducing the production, which is available as pay-to-view until Feb. 20, director Christopher Borgardt says the players never sat in the same building, and some cast members have never met in person. A year ago, that might have befuddled people, but here it is, another form of theater-making.

By Zoom, the story takes place in seven locations. The players are lively and expressive, and they have built their individual characters well. Each always reacts to what is being said by the focal speaker.

The cast is nimble and well-prepared. Sandy Toland portrays the kindly and open-minded counselor, who’s a tad quaint, too. Jayda Messer and one-name Booras portray an older couple visited by a mortality crisis for the man. Andrea Young and Michelle Ruzek portray a couple whose initial flames of desire have waned amid the toils and tests of everyday life. Jill Knetter and Brad Dokken portray a couple beset by timidity and job-first/make-money challenges.

“Couples” has comical and earthy moments, but it is not a comedy or “R”-fensive. Playwright Sean Grennan has subtle density in his plays.

Oshkosh Community Players is familiar with Sean Grennan from producing his absorbing “The Tin Woman” in 2019. That play and two others had their world premiere at Peninsula Players Theatre in Door County.

Act I of “Couples” turns around the results of a date each of the estranged couples has gone on. Act II – following a one-minute intermission (for the illusion that the players have changed clothes) – follows a month of no contact for the couples.

The play includes lessons to learn and a sequence of warm fuzzies as problems are solved – but then comes a big surprise for a spunky ending.

In the real world, there would be no audience listening in on the couples as they let it all hang out in therapy. But theater lets people do that – go where they otherwise cannot go. And a beauty of this production is you can connect to “Couples” any ol’ time you want until next Saturday.

***

Creative: Playwright – Sean Grennan; director Christopher Borgardt; assistant director – Kylie Montee; stage manager – Tonie Yankowski; make-up design, props – Ellen Mangin; marketing – Emily Miels

Cast:

Dr. Mercer – Sandy Toland

Nevin – Booras

Barbara – Jayda Messer

Thomas – Brad Dokken

Cynthia – Jill Knetter

Faith – Michelle Ruzek

Sally – Andrea Young

Running time: One hour, 3 minutes

Remaining access: Anytime to Feb. 20

Info: oshkoshcommunityplayers.com

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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