Douglas Carter Beane, of late, seems to be literally writing off the top of his head, not attuned to his characters. In his tedious new comedy Mr. & Mrs Fitch, two married gossip columnists, constantly spew floral witticisms thought up by the clever playwright, which are usually pretty funny, but the barrage of sharp banter feels throw in leaving the audience confused. The effect is like being held prisoner by a relentless stand-up comic in an ascot. Early on in Beane’s self-immolating Mr. & Mrs. Fitch, Mrs. Fitch (Jennifer Ehle) herself recalls asking Anna Deavere Smith and Moises Kaufman how they come up with ideas for their shows. One guesses it’s through detailed research and determination to tell honest stories, as she herself admits. However Mr. & Mrs Finch take the opposite approach and create a completely fictional celebrity, which they pass off as real in Beane’s Cuisinart mixer of bon mots with a questionable expiration date that appears long past.
The writing comes across at odds with everything you see practically from the get-go, as the Fitches (the male counterpart played by a game John Lithgow) mull over ideas for their latest column while disparaging blogs (pronounced “blaahgs” by the Fitches) and Twitter. One wonders-even if they are relics (hence the namesakes Beane has given them), why they wouldn’t want to embrace the new technology, especially since they are GOSSIP columnists? They have cell phones and a cool-looking iPod player in their swanky Manhattan loft, so why disparage networking sites? A good example of the playwright telling us what he thinks is funny, rather than letting the action flow from the visceral representation of the couple in question.
The Fitches are an unlikely duo, digging themselves deeper into their lie as they hatch onto a scheme to concoct a fictitious partygoer then watch as other media take their ideas and sprint to the finish line by getting an exclusive with the non-existent celebrity. Their antics could have been great fun, if there were some adversarial kick, like a good 1930s screwball comedy might have had. But since the Fitches seem to talk exactly alike, and pull all their reference out of thin air, their volley of one-upmanship crashes into a brick wall, that being the fourth one, when the audience becomes exhausted from trying to keep up with Beane’s bombardment of snippet writing. A little character backbone would serve us better.
A miscast Ehle, typically an interesting actress, is playing alone and on autopilot in an effort to sustain the limited action. Granted the material allows little room for her to create a living person, but she also doesn’t seem natural. She throws the zingers out into ether rather than making the attempt to play off her gifted co-star. Mr. Lithgow, on the other hand, comes off much better and his performance is the best thing about the production, simply because he isn’t playing alone and can make a moment breathe with life. He even gets laughs with weak lines (“I’m feeling vulnerable in a television-for-women kind of way”), and despite the ingrained broadness, Lithgow can be quite sensitive on stage, and manages to be even affecting in the play’s final stretch.
Director Scott Ellis (Curtains) keeps things moving a break neck pace despite the static nature of the comedy. When you’ve had quite enough of listening to the self-impressed Beane blather, you can always marvel at Allen Moyer’s chic loft set, and wonder how many newspapers the Fitches had to sell to afford that
trendy bad boy.
By: Jason Clark
Mr. & Mrs. Fitch
Second Stage Theatre
307 West 43rd St near 8th Ave.
Running time: 1 hour and 45 minutes, one intermission.
For tickets call 212-246-4422.