Appearing on the stage of The Dorothy Strelsin Theatre as part of The Midtown International Theatre Festival, â€œCoverâ€ tells us the story of two families shattered by infidelity. It is, undoubtedly, the tale we have heard before, and yet, the playwright Bill McMahon and the director Paul Michael take a new perspective on it by focusing on the affair between two married, previously heterosexual men who suddenly become closer to each other than to their spouses.
However, while male characters show considerable development (the play, after all, concentrates on the two of them), female characters appear stereotypical and progress only a little. Having an always-busy businesswoman and a neurotic as wives almost gives the lovers an excuse to cheat on them. At the same time, the dynamics in the relationships between Peter (Tony Travostino) and Beth (Karin de la Penha), and between David (Max Rhyser) and Zan (Olivia Mell) are completely different, which makes the audience wonder where each couple will end up when the cover of “friendship” the lovers use is blown. In other words, though the play does, to some extent, lean on gender stereotypes, it is still a story worth hearing.
Despite the age difference (Beth and Peter are almost 20 years older than David and Zan), the two couples have one problem in common: they have less sex than they used to. As their children grew up and moved away, Beth and Peter eventually became estranged and occupied with their careers. In contrast, David and Zan have been married for only eight years and have no kids. They act like best friends and we understand that, in general, they maintain a good relationship, though David makes it clear that he would like to renew the passion they had as newlyweds. In both cases, the women, too busy with work, reject the men. What can be more stereotypical than this?
In the meantime, Peter and David have chemistry and satisfy each other sexually, facing the dilemma: to keep hiding and cheating, or to lose each other. The conflict is so strong that some drama is inevitable.
But although conflict usually leads to changes in characters, in â€œCoverâ€ it works only for men. For example, the affair liberates Peter, allowing him to enjoy life without thinking about consequences. He acquires not only the young lover, but also a new and expensive car. Arguing with Beth, Peter says, â€œI got tired of being invisible,â€ and complains that only David pays attention to what matters to him. For that reason, Peter feels like he is living his life to the fullest when he is with David. That is to say, he grows from the new relationship and becomes happier.
David’s life, on the contrary, is shattered to pieces as a result of the affair, and still, he, just like his lover, finally realizes what’s most important for him. Compared to this, the women have little to no development. Their characters don’t change but only reach the extremes of what they began with. Hence, women in the play are like time bombs that go off at some point and lead to a disaster. For Zan, the tipping point seems to be her motherâ€™s suicide, and Beth accuses her husband of pushing her away by encouraging her to pursue her career. Itâ€™s a shame that we donâ€™t get much chance to dig deeper into their personalities.
But on the bright side, the way the tensions between the characters are portrayed is simply brilliant. The characters infer more than they say, and we get to hear them whispering to one another. The meanings of their phrases often go beyond what they literally mean in the dictionary. For instance, the audience canâ€™t help but laugh when Zan says about Peter, â€œHe seems to be a very hands-on kind of mentor,â€ even though she does not even suspect what is going on between her husband and his â€œfriend.â€
In addition, the actorsâ€™ facial expressions tell us a lot about the characters. We know, for instance, that Beth is opaque. She does not let people understand what she thinks or feels unless she wants to. And when she wants to, she may be quite upfront. â€œI prefer cunt,â€ she says when Peter calls her formidable. Zan, in contrast, is like an open book. Meeting Peter and his wife for the first time, she feels nervous, and it shows on her face and in her gestures, even though she tries to conceal her feelings from unwanted guests.
Thus, even if the shallowness of the women in â€œCoverâ€ disappoints you, you will still enjoy the play because it explores drama that goes on in peopleâ€™s love relationships. It looks into our motivations and shows what individuals do when they feel hurt or cornered. It also reminds us that love is a double-edged sword that can be empowering or destructive, depending on whether it makes us move mountains or stab someone dear to us.
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