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Tuesday, Feb. 1, 2011

Rep’s ‘Speaking in Tongues’ Shows Need to Connect

Theater Review

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Sonja is married to Leon. Jane is married to Pete. At midlife, they each have reached an emotional “cul-de-sac.” So, on the same night, on the prowl for a connection, they end up in a hotel room with the other’s spouse, if not their bed.

Coincidence? Contrivance? Playwright Andrew Bovell’s complex mystery about the enigmatic nature of relationships and the desperate need to connect, to trust another human being, lies at the core of Speaking in Tongues, which opened at the Rep’s Stiemke Studio last weekend.

Director Laura Gordon, who excels at presenting intimate dramas that explore the connections between couples (Skin Tight, Almost, Maine), succeeds again—only this time, it’s the uncoupling that engages us. Gordon accentuates the emotional emptiness within the deafening silences that engulf the two couples. It’s the unsaid that heightens the tension amid the uniformly excellent quartet of actors.

“I just wanna feeling something… feel something inside… I’m numb,” says Jane (Deborah Staples). Talking with “strangers”—it turns out, coincidentally, the other husband or wife—highlights the desperate need to connect, to once again feel something inside.

Bovell challenges the audience throughout the two hours, especially in Act II, which gives us the same four actors playing different characters found in some of the monologues told in the first act.

Staples, Lee Ernst, Jonathan Smoots and Jenny McKnight work well together and separately in their multiple roles. McKnight, in particular, provides a range of subtle emotions for the injured Sonja in Act I, only to mine the other end of the emotional spectrum as the self-centered Sarah in Act II.

Scenic designer Michael Ganio strips the stage bare to its back walls and sides, letting the empty space physically consume the few pieces of furniture, further illustrating the isolation and alienation experienced by these characters.

There are no easy answers or neatly tied-up endings in Speaking in Tongues. As an audience, we have to try to decipher the mysteries of the heart for ourselves—if we dare.

Speaking in Tongues
runs through March 13 in The Rep’s Stiemke Studio. For more information, call 414-224-9490 or visit www.milwaukeerep.com.
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