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Pair country
An Infinite Ache presents scenes from a marriage
An Infinite Ache
By David Schulner. Directed by Greg Leaming. Set by Marjorie Bradley Kellogg. Costumes by Claudia Stephens. Lighting by Dan Kotlowitz. Original music by Fabian Obispo. With Eunice Wong and David Josefsberg. At Merrimack Repertory Theatre, Lowell, through February 1.

A man, a woman, a set that serves as a blank canvas to be completed, and the theatrical convention of compressed time are the chief components of David Schulner’s An Infinite Ache, which is getting its area premiere at Merrimack Repertory Theatre. A couple meet, mate, and marry over a stretch of some 50 years — or perhaps it’s only the 80 minutes on stage, rolled into a dream. You might think you’re in sit-com land because of the familiar trials and tribulations and the falling of an Asian-American woman for a Jewish middle-class prince, with both characters wrapped in ethnic tics. But at Merrimack there’s fine acting from Eunice Wong as Hope and David Josefsberg as Charles and expert direction from Greg Leaming. All three have been involved in other regional stagings of the work, which premiered at New Haven’s Long Wharf Theatre two seasons ago.

Both Marjorie Bradley Kellogg, the Broadway-credentialed designer, and Schulner buy into Shakespeare’s idea of calling on the audience to transform a bare stage through imagination, as the Chorus requests at the opening of Henry V. Not that the playwright has approximated anything near the Bard’s invention in creating a world beyond the central characters. An Infinite Ache starts on the first-date night, when Hope accepts Charles’s invitation to visit his apartment. Dizzy from wine, she lies down on his bed. As he chastely watches her sleep, for "only an hour," as he later tells her, their entire future unfolds, from the awkwardness of two disparate people meeting to some time in the future when they’re sitting on their front porch watching their grandchildren on the swings. The play includes some long scenes, among them Charles’s proposal (with a ring from Tiffany’s), which Hope turns down — at first. Other cavalcades of time take only a sentence or two, leaping from daughter Julie’s days at camp to her bat mitzvah year to her leaving the nest for college.

Although An Infinite Ache is a two-person play, the set is as compelling a presence as Hope or Charles. The design concept evolves to describe the patterns of the couple’s lives no less clearly than the series of kiss-kisses, make-ups, and crises. The play begins against the bland, empty walls of a beige-colored studio apartment, with just a few doors and a bed and a bureau. Eventually, the living space transforms from reflecting the simple needs of the young to housing the complex accumulations of an older couple. The history of Hope and Charles can be read in the progressing taste of their wall hangings.

The gimmick is that the actors dress the set in matter-of-fact manner, bringing on new lampshades, rugs, and accessories, while the technical crew scurries around backstage to shove the new set pieces into place behind the doors that open to disclose glimpses of rooms in the homes of different eras, from a larger apartment to the comfortable house to a hospital room at the end. It’s a given that the revolving décor corresponds to the progression of years as well as to the changes in the couple’s personalities — and the variance in their memories of each other back when they met.

The obligatory dark secret, the loss of a child early in their marriage, which Hope refuses to talk through, is also the set-up for troubles later on. Having landed a job that makes her the chief breadwinner, she becomes distant. He takes a job for more money that requires him to travel. They part but cannot leave each other behind, a manifestation of the meaning of the Chinese legend that Hope’s grandmother taught her about the red thread that binds the feet of a baby girl to those of the baby boy she is destined to marry, as well as of the Yiddish concept of "beshert," or what’s meant to be.

No one will mistake An Infinite Ache for, say, Much Ado About Nothing, or for a metaphor as moving as Pablo Neruda’s poem "Body of a Woman," which includes the title phrase. But the play is a tidy piece of work that elicits a tear and a glow over the lasting power of love.

Issue Date: January 23 - 29, 2004
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