David Schulner’s 2001 relationship comedy/drama, An Infinite Ache, comes to the Cellar Theater in a well-acted if familiar production. Reminiscent of the 1951 play The Fourposter (which also takes place in a single room dominated by a large bed), Ache chronicles the history of a couple’s relationship from their first date to their final days. Compressing 50 years of life into a one-act, 90-minute play requires more than a little nimble work on the part of the actors and director, and the Cellar team is up to the task.
The show opens with Hope and Charles on their awful first date. Charles has brought Hope, woozy from drinking too much wine, to his modest single apartment to lay down. She is a rather brusque wannabe actress and he is a twitchy new arrival in L.A. from the East Coast. Though there seem to be no sparks between them whatsoever, they nevertheless begin to see each other regularly.
Thereafter, the audience is catapulted through a tableau of brief, significant episodes in their lives. They become a couple, get married, argue, experience a tragic loss, go their separate ways, reunite, grow old — and seemingly start the cycle all over again.
Playwright David Schulner clearly has a gift for language. The couple’s exchanges often ring with truth, only occasionally veering into artifice. It’s also cleverly constructed, with episodes taken from different time periods colliding and overlapping. On the downside, this choppy technique makes character development a challenge, leaving it to the actors to bring needed dimension to Charles and Hope.
At the Cellar, Ache‘s time changes are indicated by varied lighting and a “transition-y” sound effect. The performers themselves re-dress the set as the piece goes on. In their hands, props are magically transformed into different objects. For example, a rolled-up blanket that was a pile of laundry in one moment becomes their newborn baby in the next.
Stephanie Lim and Nich Witham are affecting as the couple, handling the tonal and time shifts seamlessly under the direction of Jim Mammarella. The production team, including Dan “Doc” Heggem (lighting), Jeremy Whittington (set design), Sara Brookes (costumes) and Jesse Worley (sound and projection) also do their usual fine job in the Cellar’s intimate space.
An Infinite Ache plays Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 2:00 p.m. through Jan. 20 at the Cellar Theater, 800 West Ashby Place. Reservations can be made online or by calling the box office at (210) 733-7258.
Photos by Nick Barron.