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Monday, Feb. 23, 2009

Search for Love

Theater Review

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The Sum of Us, Milwaukee Chamber Theatre's newest production, has the upbeat feel of an Australian soap, the sticky-soft heart of a family drama and an anticlimactic ending that leaves us with the phrase "shit happens" resounding in our ears.

Set in an Australian industrial suburb in the present day, the majority of the play revolves around the cheerful domicile of a widower (Brian Mani) and his gay son (Andrew Truschinski), whose sexual orientation has long since been discovered and accepted. Their relationship is as close to perfect as one could hope for, the only discernible conflict between them being the son's mild-mannered chastisement concerning his father's intrepid behavior and the father's continual need to prod his son to action. Homosexuality is continually referred to (often in a stream of colorful vernacular), but it's second to the play's more persistent theme of parental hopes, the search for love and the blindness of fate.

Proceeding at a leisurely pace, the play begins with the son's nervous preparations for a date and comes full circle, despite a rather abrupt turn of events that takes place offstage, just like most of the interesting developments in the characters' lives-including the mother's death and the grandmother's enduring love affair with her female lodger. Each of these events is reconstructed mostly through monologues that interrupt the flow of dialogue and add depth and insight to scenes that often drag on needlessly. I wonder why the playwright simply didn't do away with this tiresome padding and keep only these monologues. He could have saved us all a lot of time. The occasion when stepping out of character truly pays off is in the final act, when one of the main characters is briefly restored to his former state before the abrupt turn of events. Allowed to address the audience one more time, his intimations are all the more poignant because of the terminal, grim-faced silence we know must follow.

The Sum of Usruns through March 15 at the Broadway Theatre Center.