Sweet Nothings

Coitus interruptus, but pretty darned satisfying.

Whatever other things there might be that you shouldn’t say past midnight, one good one to avoid is “Do me, you hook-nosed Jew.” It’s precisely that ecstatic exclamation that opens Peter Ackerman’s charming sex comedy with a whimper in the middle of a bang. The resultant what-the-hell-was-that conversation only confuses things further, of course, because comedy thrives on complication, and next thing you know boyfriend Ben’s high-minded talk about how people don’t always know themselves has girlfriend Nancy worried that Ben must be gay.

Though it’s three in the morning and everyone is in bed trying to get anything but sleep, the couple’s little misunderstanding almost immediately becomes the business of Nancy’s commitment-phobic best friend Grace; Grace’s touchy-feely hitman boy toy Gene; Grace’s therapist (and Gene’s little brother) Mark; and Mark’s elderly boyfriend Mr. Abramson.

If this were a sitcom synopsis, this would be the point to say, “And then the fun begins,” except by this point the fun has been going on for a long time considering the whole thing only runs an hour and a quarter. Things You Shouldn’t Say Past Midnight isn’t one of those comedies that builds up steam until everything explodes into a frantic climax. It starts off funny (and steamy) and keeps up that energy throughout. Getting there is most of the fun.

Director Bobby Weinapple keeps the pace tight and the tone light for this Bay Area premiere at the Dean Lesher Center for the Arts in Walnut Creek. Ackerman’s comic confection was brought to us under the aegis of theatre Q, a formerly Chicago-based company that set up shop in the East Bay last year. Dale Albright and Todd Utikal’s set elegantly captures three locations at once (a necessity for the three-way phone conversations later in the play), with Grace and Mark’s parallel bedrooms on either side of the stage — hers modern and red, his green with a cutesy B&B aesthetic, Alvin and the Chipmunks dolls on the side table — and Ben’s spartan bachelor living room between them.

The first shift in locale takes a little adjustment only because the central couple is a bit more naturalistic than their cartoonish friends. As Nancy, Danielle O’Hare’s gradual descent from sexy postcoital glow to neurotic agitation is nicely played, as is David Neufeld’s Ben, who has a delicate balance of nice-guy warmth and a grad student’s compulsion to muddy waters further through overintellectualization.

Darcy Brown-Martin’s writhing sex kitten Grace also is quite funny, frustrated as she is that Gene has chosen to start bettering himself when she wants a little less conversation and a little more action. Robert Anthony Peters captures the determined glimmer of a mook struggling to understand things beyond his ken even as Grace tries to keep things, and him, simple. John Atwood is such a paragon and parody of wide-eyed concern and attentiveness as therapist Mark that he comes off as a cross between Dudley Do-Right and a forest friend out of a Disney cartoon. Remi Barron is quiet and gentle as a churchmouse as frail Mr. Abramson, his every utterance nearly breathless with wonder and bewilderment.

The attractive cast and all the cussing notwithstanding, the show is more sweet than sexy, more cute than provocative. But for a comedy built on three couples’ coitus interruptus, when all’s said and done it’s pretty darned satisfying.

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