The Purple Rose gets a positive result from Carey Crim's 'Some Couples May ... '
photo by Danna Segrest, courtesy of The Purple Rose Theatre Company
About midway through the first act of Carey Crim’s new play “Some Couples May ,” now having its world premiere at the Purple Rose Theatre, I thought about how rare it is to see a happy, healthy marriage — like the one that exists between David (Bill Simmons) and Emily (Rhiannon Ragland), the two main characters — at the center of a play.
The reasons for this are fairly obvious: stories about people who are content with each other don’t offer much in the way of dramatic conflict or tension. But with “Couples,” Crim gets around this narrative paradox by providing an otherwise well-matched couple with a common goal that they just can’t seem to attain — namely, a child.
“Couples” is the third Crim play to premiere at the Rose — the others were “Growing Pretty” and “Wake” — and to my mind, it’s far and away her best and most satisfying work to date. The play’s engrossing; it feels personal but thoughtful; there are surprises along the way, but none of them feel incongruous; and the play doesn’t pander by way of its ending. With all this in mind, I’d go so far as to argue that “Couples” is one of the strongest shows to appear on the Rose’s stage in recent years.
Why? Credit Crim’s warm and often funny script for starters. David, a pediatrician, and Emily, an event planner, are a refreshingly genuine couple. They’re smart, successful, likable people who adore each other but just can’t seem to catch a break, conception-wise.
Also involved in the mix is David’s bartending brother, Henry (Alex Leydenfrost), and his effortlessly fertile, 44-year-old wife, Faye (Michelle Mountain); as well as David’s often-inappropriate mother, Lois (Jan Radcliff) and crochety father, Bernie (Jim Porterfield). Finally, there’s a mysterious woman, Isabel (Aphrodite Nikolovski), who lives in the noisy apartment above David’s office.
Though I’ve questioned some of the Rose’s casting choices in previous, recent productions, the actors assigned roles in “Couples” seem to fit perfectly, and the ensemble works together like a marvelously well-oiled machine, thanks in large part to director Guy Sanville. One of the standouts on opening night was Porterfield, who quietly, gruffly steals his scenes while playing off (the also-wonderful) Radcliff. And Ragland and Simmons together make Emily and David’s relationship feel comfortable, fun, and like a home unto itself, despite the pain and insecurities they’re each suffering.
But extra special attention must be paid to Ragland’s meticulously nuanced and powerful performance. Whether veering wildly between laughter and tears while hosting a family gathering, or experiencing sudden and broad emotional gear shifts due to hormone fertility treatments, or doggedly pouncing on her husband for scheduled sex, Ragland makes it all look effortless and natural, offering up what might well be the breakout performance of her young career.
Vince Mountain’s set design places us in Emily and David’s living room, though its visually spare nature lends itself to standing in for various locales; sound designer Quintessa Gallinat provides lovely musical scene transitions without becoming heavy-handed; costume designer Christianne Myers gets to have some over-the-top fun with one character (who shall remain nameless, so as to not ruin any surprises); and Dana White designed the show’s lighting.
A couple of small staging issues gave me pause. Only a love seat, coffee table, and chair appear on the stage, which makes the space more open and versatile, but also makes some scripted moments feel strange. For instance, despite the fact that David and Emily live in an affluent Detroit suburb, when the whole family is over, a few folks inevitably end up sitting on the floor, which just seemed odd and unlikely. Plus, in an early scene, Emily, on the loveseat, calls David at his office, and he takes a seat in the chair. Because we’ve previously watched them in this same space as their home, the moment looks and feels awkward.
I also had some very minor questions about points in the script. I wondered, for example, whether an event planner wouldn’t know her way around a fondue pot better (Emily’s cheese turns solid); and some of Isabel’s first lines struck me as too self-consciously clever and writerly (“I would offer you pie, but you didn’t bring any”) - though this wasn’t a problem at all in her later scenes.
Obviously, these are pretty microscopic, ticky-tacky issues that do very little to subtract from “Couples”' overall impact. For Crim, Sanville, the cast, and the design team have masterfully pulled off something that’s often aspired to but rarely achieved: a laugh-out-loud original comedy that simultaneously warms and breaks your heart.