New comedy, "Engagements," brings fresh voice to Barrington Stage

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PITTSFIELD >> The primary settings for Lucy Teitler's sly, engaging new comedy, "Engagements" is a series of gardens in and around Cambridge, Mass. that are the venues for various engagement parties. For the play's central character, Lauren (played luminously by Amanda Quaid with pitch-perfect wryness, sarcasm, wariness, embarrassment and, in the end, adventure) the parties are a pretext for standing at a distance, sipping Pinot Grigios one after another, observing the comings and goings and making excuses, of a sort, for not having brought her boyfriend du jour with her.

Speculating to her Corky Sherwood-like (from the the old CBS sitcom, "Murphy Brown") BFF Allison (played with delightfully blissful ingenuousness and shallowness by Kate Loprest) that she, may, in fact, spend the rest of her life single.

"I'm always single, sort of," Lauren says.

"You always have a boyfriend," Allison insists.

"And they have never understood me," Lauren says in return, "so, it's like being single."

Whether Lauren will remain that way is one of the questions hovering around the center of "Engagements." Whether Allison will find out that Lauren has, during one of the engagement parties, had fast, alcohol-fueled feverish sex in a gazebo with Allison's soon-to-be fiance, Mark (a credible Robert David Grant) is another, especially as Mark, a Pinto Grigio-bearing snake in the grass, clandestinely begins pursuing Lauren with dogged determination.

Complicating matters for Lauren is the arrival of a distant cousin whom she hasn't seen in 15 years and whose name, Catherine (a perfectly mousy Phoebe Strole), she can't recall. Traveling with Catherine is her grad student boyfriend, Ryan (a slightly overblown Adam Gerber) who initially has no use for Lauren but becomes intrigued by her, especially as he figures out that Lauren and Mark had — if they are not still having — an affair and that Mark is behind a series of packages that have been sent anonymously to Lauren.

For the most part, Teitler's writing is sharp, astute and spot-on in its observations. She is refreshingly witty and particularly blessed in having Quaid deliver her best lines. Quaid's timing is impeccable. She navigates Lauren's certainties and uncertainties with understanding and a finely tuned sense of what's at stake. Quaid also has as killer smile that involves her entire face and eyes.

The air begins leaking out of "Engagements" toward the end as the play flounders in a series of turns that are by no mans unexpected. Teitler also has difficulty balancing the play's absurdist elements with its realistic nature.

Still, on the whole, "Engagements" is fresh, appealing and welcome. And even when Teitler's voice falters, Quaid's does not.

THEATER REVIEW

What: "Engagements" by Lucy Teitler. Directed by Louisa Proske

With: Amanda Quaid, Kate Loprest, Robert David Grant, Phoebe Strole, Adam Gerber

Designers: Brian Prather, scenic; Beth Goldenberg, costumes; Yi Zhao, lighting; Kenneth Goodwin, sound

Who: Barrington Stage Company

When: Through Aug. 30. Evenings: 7:30 Wed.-Sat. Matinees — 4 Thu., Sat.; 3 Sun.

Where: St. Germain Stage, Sydelle and Lee Blatt Performing Arts Center, 36 Linden St., Pittsfield

Tickets: start at $40 (youth ages 6-18 — $15)

How: (413) 236-8888; barringtonstageco.org; in person at BSC box office — 30 Union St., Pittsfield


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