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Photograph by David Allen

I Fought the Stool, and the Stool Won: James Carpenter and Suzan Hanson watch Joseph Parks put his foot in it in 'Wintertime.'

It's All About Mee

San Jose Rep mounts a marvelous production of Charles L. Mee's 'Wintertime'

By Rob Pratt

SUPERLATIVES hardly seem right for a wonderful theatrical show like Wintertime, now playing at San Jose Repertory Theatre. While there is plenty of extreme passion in Charles L. Mee's sexy, smart and fresh comedy about love and desire, the pleasures of this winning production are more subtle and lasting than any effusive praise can convey. However, the show certainly doesn't refrain from hitting audiences over the head to make a point now and then--or continually for that matter--but that's just part of the fun.

With precious little plot, Mee crafts a consuming whirlwind of a meditation on love and desire. A young man, Jonathan, and the woman he wants to marry retreat to a snowbound house for a romantic New Year's getaway--an idea shared by his mother, her lover, his father and his father's boyfriend. The group quickly devolves into jealousy and petty bickering, which continues unabated until the very end of the story. A central theme is the conundrum of the inverse relationship between love and desire as piquantly defined by François, the lover of Jonathan's mother: "If I love you, I have to reject you, and if I don't love you, I have to seem to love you."

San Jose Rep artistic director Timothy Near, who directed this production, has assembled a cast of charming players, each equally at home with philosophizing speeches and physical comedy. Mee's script intermingles lush language with expressive movement--hilarious, minutes-long interludes of door slamming or dish breaking or other acts of petty destruction--and Near has brilliantly coached the cast to wring as much expression from a trashed living room as from tart wordplay.

The entire ensemble turns in a set of excellent performances, but Suzan Hanson as Maria, Jonathan's mother, and Michael Butler as François, her lover, stand out for creating a complex chemistry between their volatile characters. Both sexual predators given to infidelity, Maria and François a nonetheless love each other deeply. Hanson and Butler render this thicket of emotions with impeccable timing and clarity. Joseph Parks as Jonathan, James Carpenter as Frank, Jonathan's father, and Charles Dean as Bob, a handyman who comes off as a cross between Taxi's Jim Ignatowski and Newhart's Larry, Darryl and Darryl, also turn in fine performances.

Wintertime, a San Jose Repertory Theatre production plays Tuesday-Friday at 8pm (except Dec. 24, 25 and 31 and Jan. 1), Saturday at 3 and 8pm and Sunday at 2 and 7pm (except Jan. 4) through Jan 4 at the Rep, 101 Paseo de San Antonio, San Jose. Tickets are $18-$52. (408.367.7255 or www.sjrep.com)

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From the December 11-17, 2003 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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