May 4, 2013 | by Patrick Folliard
Delicate dances
Alex Mills, Jon Hudson, 2-2 Tango, Studio Theatre, theater, gay news, Washington Blade

Actors Jon Hudson, left, and Alex Mills in ‘2-2 Tango.’ (Photo by Igor Dmitry; courtesy Studio)

‘Pas de Deux: Plays from New Zealand and Canada’
Through May 19
Studio 2ndStage
1501 14th Street, NW
$30-$35
202-332-3300
studiotheatre.org

Jim only likes to do it with the lights off. And when it’s the first time, he likes to go to the other guy’s place. But James, the interested guy that Jim just met at the club, doesn’t like to bring new guys home either. Sometimes it’s hard to get them out in the morning. This could be problematic. But despite the many little bumps that might derail their destiny before it even gets going, they become a couple — for a while anyway

Out playwright Daniel MacIvor’s “2-2 Tango” (now at Studio 2ndStage) hastily moves through the arc of Jim and James’ brief love affair beginning with their nocturnal meeting, an early passion, the blissful honeymoon to discontent and ultimate parting. Told mostly from inside the respective guys’ heads, MacIvor frames the same-sex romance as an ongoing dance with varied steps (disco, jazz and a seductive tango), beats and counts. And smartly director Eric Ruffin has cast a pair of appealing actors who can really dance as the lovers — Jon Hudson Odom plays Jim, the needier of the pair, and Helen Hayes Award-winning out actor Alex Mills is the more resilient James.

Not long after they meet, James says he’s independent and values an independent partner. Eager to please, Jim hastily nods in agreement, but his actions indicate otherwise. For him, independence isn’t a priority. James wants space. A cloying boyfriend isn’t what he had in mind. Things don’t look good.

But along the way, there are sexy exchanges, some songs and a lot of rug cutting (choreographed by Nancy Bannon) and quality hip shaking. And while McIvor’s one act flirts with the too cutesy, he captures the disparities of love with laser-like precision. The depiction of the couple’s not mutually sought breakup is uncomfortable to watch. It’s also the play and actors’ most honest moment.

“2-2 Tango” is one of two relationship-exploring plays that make up Studio2ndStage’s aptly-titled “Pas de Deux” (dance for two). The evening’s first one act is “Skin Tight,” a couple’s rough tumble down memory lane by New Zealand playwright Gary Henderson. Unlike McIvor’s piece, which focuses more on how people get together, Henderson’s play starkly reveals the details and intimacies of a longer union. But just because we’re dealing with a presumably more settled couple here, don’t expect the action (staged by Johanna Gruenhut) to be desultory or slow moving. Henderson’s one act opens with husband and wife wrestling wildly — a scene that initially reads more violent crime than playful roughhouse.

Tom and Elizabeth have been together forever. Recently they’ve lost their farm and now Elizabeth plans to go away. Together they reminisce: meeting as youths, the horrors of war, Elizabeth’s uneasy relationship with their daughter. Intermittently throughout the long conversation, they romp and wrestle (these kinetic antics belie the characters’ true age and reality). She shaves him with a straight edge razor. He peels an apple with a pocket knife. They engage in erotically charged knife play — the usual stuff. Led by the more emotional and impulsive Elizabeth, the married couple reveal the most tender and painful details of their relationship.

Henderson’s funny and heartfelt script is a stunning mix of poetic and plain language. As Tom and Elizabeth, Jens Rasmussen and Emily Townley are at home with the words and action; they give terrific, fearless performances.

JD Madsen’s simple sets are pleasingly spare: a patch of Astroturf and rusted bathtub for “Skin Tight” and a sleek sunken dance floor for “2-2 Tango.” Jedidiah Roe’s evocative lighting — quiet to fiery, and James Bigbee Garver’s ably done sound design add to the effect.

“Pas de Deux” is all about being with someone. And though dissimilar, they both convey the complexity and universality of relationships. So different, yet so well coupled.

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