Words are funny things. For instance, if you Google "marital arts," you come up with lots of techniques for combat — the search engine assuming that you misspelled martial arts. Of course, the two terms are in truth even closer than that.
This is the core of 50 Words by Michael Weller, now concluding a run at the Bang and Clatter Theatre in Cleveland (it originally ran at their Akron location in February). And the good news is that the two actors who play the young married couple, Adam and Jan, have found a rhythm that works beautifully.
Jazz musicians say they're "in the pocket" when they are reacting intuitively to each other, allowing their riffs to blend or stand out in sharp clarity while developing a fully integrated experience. Sean Derry and Alanna Romansky are at that point, as they ride the peaks and valleys of their characters' relationship in a thoroughly engrossing 75 minutes.
Adam owns a small architectural firm and Jan is a trained dancer turned Internet data geek. They have a young son, Greg, who is off on his first overnight play date. This leaves Mom and Dad alone to do what they do. And that amounts to some flirting, mixed in with lots of poison-tipped barbs about each other's various failings, particularly his lack of toughness and her bitchiness.
Indeed, all married relationships are a mixture of love and aggravation. Playwright Weller knows this, and his play is a compressed duel.
Under Sean McConaha's direction, Derry has grown in the role, becoming playful and even lovable early on, successfully finding chinks in Jan's psychic armor. And whether Jan smiles or snarls in return, Romansky keeps Jan a baffling mix of blossoming independence and abiding neediness. This all comes to a head when a secret is revealed, and all bets are off.
50 Words is a picture of two fractured married people working out their own solutions. As Adam notes, if the Eskimos have 50 words for snow, there should be at least as many for love.