‘An Infinite Ache’ Attempts Too Much
By Geary Danihy

If you’re going to chronicle a marriage that run 40 years or so in just over an hour and a half, you’re going to have to be selective in what you show, and that’s the basic problem with David Schulner’s An Infinite Ache, which recently opened at Stamford Theatre Works.

An Infinite Ache
Tristan Colton as Charles and Vanessa Kai as Hop in 'An Infinite Ache,' now playing at Stamford Theater Works.

The two-character, one-act play, which stars Tristan Colton as Charles and Vanessa Kai as Hope, chronicles the couple’s lives from first, awkward date to the demise of one of them in old age, making many, many…actually too many stops along the way as Schulner attempts to pack in just about every cliché about dating, living together and married life known to modern man.

The effect is, oddly enough, to distance the audience from the couple, something I imagine Schulner didn’t intend. It’s like whipping through multi-volume albums filled with a couple’s snapshots and reading the one-line captions beneath – you get the broad picture but, in the end, you’re relieved when the last page is turned.

For a play so jam-packed with mini-incident, it gets off to a relatively slow start, with Colton over-playing a nervous, romantically starved young Jewish boy who has somehow inveigled a young woman up to his apartment. Kai, who shined in last season’s Far East, seems ill at ease playing someone ill at ease. There’s a lot of jerking, jumping and crossing back and forth on both of their parts, which is meant to convey just how ill-matched they are for each other. It’s overdone and, in the end, tedious.

Things take a turn for the better once Hope “falls asleep” on Charles’ bed, igniting a multitude of mini-scenes (some consisting of only one line) that lead the couple into their dotage, where once again things slow to a crawl to allow Colton to deliver Schulner’s closing comments about life, love and marriage (There might as well have been a sign flashing “Message! Message! Message!” above Coltor’s head.)

A bright spot in the evening has the couple lying in bed snapping their bedside lights on and off as they ask rhetorical questions of each other, decide to get a dog, decide to get rid of the dog, and ultimately find they are growing incapable of communicating with each other. There’s nothing new here, but the staging is interesting and the two actors pull it off very nicely.

Such, unfortunately, is not the case with what is supposed to be one of the play’s most highly charged scenes: the death of the couple’s first child. Colton spends most of the scene on his hands and knees sobbing (not very believably) while Kai overplays the hysterics to the point that her words are lost, so that it’s not really clear what exactly happened to the child.

The two actors save their best work for the latter part of the play when the couple has reconciled major differences and slips from late middle age into the golden years and beyond. Again, it’s accomplished with a lot of “snap shots,” but Colton and Kai handle the aging process quite well while delivering some of the play’s funniest lines.

However, this too runs on a bit long, mainly because the actors must, literally, set up the stage for the play’s conclusion while delivering their lines and making their arthritic way back and forth across the stage. It’s obvious where all of this is going, but the full-circle closing must await the aforementioned soporific coda delivered by Colton.

The “idea” behind An Infinite Ache, which is directed by Steve Karp, is a good if not totally new one, but the “idea” would have been better served if Schulner had seen fit to exercise a bit more restraint in attempting to show “everything.” In the end, it leads to the audience being overwhelmed visually and under-whelmed emotionally.

An Infinite Ache runs through Sunday, May 11. For tickets or more information call 359-4414 or go to www.stamfordtheatreworks.org..

(This review originally appeared in the Norwalk Citizen News.)

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