Getting personal with 'The Personal(s)'

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Entertainment,Theater

It takes more than a few scenes to figure out what's going on in Josh Hecht's enigmatic production of "The Personal(s)," put on by the No Rules Theatre Company. When we first meet Don (Michael Kramer), he's rehearsing a droll little magic act onstage in his all-but-vacant pub, save for the sole member of his audience -- his bartender.

It's obvious that the man who pours the drinks has seen this routine many times before, and with that blurry introduction, we're fed a series of abstract scenes pieced together by the notion that here is a trio of people well-acquainted with one another, and there is the forced pretense of a couple earnestly trying to reconnect after something has been lost between them.

Hecht's languid evening of theater doesn't so much build its mystery as it meanders through a series of odd little personal ads placed in the newspaper by longtime married couple Don and Janna (Anne Kanengeiser). Something has happened to make their marriage go awry -- we soon learn there's been a devastating tragedy. And unfortunately, that doesn't make for very good comedy.

Brian Sutow's quiet drama is based on the 1996 film "Blind Date" by late Dutch director Theo van Gogh and the subsequent 2007 remake by actor-turned-screenwriter Stanley Tucci. Sutow's version sticks closer to Tucci's vision, keeping the character names and modern aesthetic intact, and while Daniel Conway's sturdy, believable scenic design welcomes us into a dark and cozy setting, it doesn't take long for us to feel just as ill at ease as the pair of estranged spouses onstage.

Onstage
'The Personal(s)'
» Where: Signature Theatre, 4200 Campbell Ave., Arlington
» When: Through May 18
» Info: $15 to $30; 703-820-9771; signature-theatre.org

Tucked away in the intimate ARK space at the Theatre (No Rules is considered a resident company there), Conway conjures up a classic dive that might only offer two kinds of red wine next to the dusty gramophone perched upon the bar. Dozens of framed art prints allude to famed magicians and other prominent illusionists, but such high-quality production value doesn't make up for Hecht's dreadfully slow pace. Clocking in at 90 minutes without an intermission, "The Personal(s)" can feel like the worst kind of blind date.

It's an interesting premise, to be sure, this idea that two married people can somehow become strangers to each other, but the concept is woefully destroyed by bad timing and exceedingly dry humor -- in fact, Sutow's story is so parched for laughs that at times it's difficult to distinguish between problems with the acting and its inherently dull script. As Kramer and Kanengeiser blandly go through the motions of several "dates," we are left to wonder whether it's the deliberately obtuse dialogue or the intentionally vague plot points that weigh down otherwise capable actors. Spencer Trinwith offers some relief in his miniature supporting role, but it isn't enough to elevate "The Personal(s)" to something universal.

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