Sitcomy and shrill, ‘Cheaters’ revives the ’80s with failed farce

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As someone over 40 myself, my suspicions are raised when a 22-year-old writes a play that purports to parse the mindsets and pecadilloes of middle-aged couples. But Michael Jacobs — who has since created such execrable sitcom dreck as My Two Dads and Charles in Charge — couldn’t even rent a car when his play Cheaters had a justifiably brief run on Broadway in 1978. It’s about two sets of bickering, faithless 50-somethings and a young couple (Danielle Pickard and Andrews Cope, above) who are trying to decide whether to marry. The plot probably says more about Jacobs’ issues with commitment than it does the titular marrieds.

For its current production, Contemporary Theatre of Dallas has updated the timeline to the mid-’80s — the height of miserable sitcomania and intrusive laugh-tracks —as if to justify how shrill and unpleasant all the characters are: It’s the Reagan Era, after all, you can’t expect people to behave civilly. Aside from that, all this change means is that we have to endure stylized scene changes where chambermaids re-set the hotel room while listening to Love Connection and The Facts of Life drone on the TV. It was impossible to stomach that detritus on its first run; who wants to endure it as a captive?

There are more coincidences — and non-coincidences — than even the most forgiving of audiences will likely accede to willingly. Each cheating pair is the parent to one of the young lovers; even though they have lived together for two years, none of their folks have ever met before the awkward family dinner where all secret infidelities are revealed. It’s meant to be a French farce, though it replaces nuance and wordplay with mugging and shouting: Call it La Cage aux Fail.

It might be tolerable if anyone onstage were remotely likable; alas, the women are all shrill, the men controlling and angry. And they are all clad in ugly costumes, the worst of which is Marcia Carroll saddled with wearing a flight suit that makes her look like something that would get you booted off Project Runway. Ted Wold at least has his signature snarky attitude, which allows him to spit out the contrived dialogue with an inherent sense of humor, though that’s just rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.

— Arnold Wayne Jones

Greenville Center for the Arts,
5601 Sears St. Through Sept. 24.
ContemporaryTheatreofDallas .com

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 9, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

QUEER CLIP: ‘The Mechanic’

It’s hard to know whether to be angry at the filmmakers or frustrated with the audience about the gay content in The Mechanic. I suppose we should be glad that gays figure anywhere in this quickie actioner, even though the portrayal is hardly flattering.

Bishop (Jason Statham, above right), an experienced hitman, is training his protege Steve (Ben Foster, above left) how to take out a rival assassin. Bishop says the bad guy is gay, so Steve — a twinkie who looks to weigh 95 pounds dripping in paving tar —seduces him. As they begin to undress each other, straight men in the preview audience emitted audible, horrified chants of “Dude!” and “Gross!” and “Ah, shit, man!” (If they were smarter, they’d be quiet and let their girlfriends get turned on.)

It’s always a tough call: Do we respect director Simon West for introducing a queer character with a sexual appetite at all, or chastise him for using it like a club, eliciting cheers from the hetero hominids to kill the faggot? Alas, West — director of such detritus as Con Air and The General’s Daughter — is probably not someone worthy of much respect.

The film itself is a breezy 90-minute escapade that doesn’t develop much momentum; the climax is planned, executed and concluded is less time than most films would spend setting up the motive of the character. But it does have hottie Statham, star of

The Transporter movies, shirtless for a bit (alas, his sex scene is with a girl). And of course his Transporter character is gay, according to the director. It’s not much to hang your hat on, but we’ll take the fantasies as we find them.

— Arnold Wayne Jones

Two stars.
Opens today in wide release.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition Jan. 28, 2011.

—  John Wright