THEATER REVIEW: Match 

Thin Plot Made Thicker: Strong cast and solid acting redeem Match

Match
Presented by the Footlight Players
Feb. 6-7, 12-14, 8 p.m.
Feb. 15, 3 p.m.
$15-$25
The Footlight Players Theatre
20 Queen St.
(843) 722-4487
www.etix.com

Tobi Powell (David Moon) has had a full life.

Early on, he caught a career-making break that let him travel the world as a dancer, a dream fulfilled and set sailing along in a current of expanding opportunity. Yet only five fast and furious years later, a knee injury wrecked his prospects. Chastened, he found refuge in choreography and, more recently, in teaching dance at prestigious Juilliard.

Moon plays Tobi as a man whose life is nothing without connection. His career has depended on it (a friend secured the Juilliard post for him) and the air of practiced vitality the aging dancer wraps around himself feels like a riddle: If Tobi Powell fell in a forest and there was no one to hear it, would he make a sound? We're about to find out.

Lisa Davis (Bettina Beard), a Ph.D. candidate, has asked to interview him for her dissertation. As he waits for her in his shabby little apartment, Tobi's anticipation is tantamount to preparing for the performance of his life. But Lisa does not arrive alone; her husband Mike (Patrick Ryan) is in tow.

Mike takes up a good deal of the first act behaving like a sullen, monosyllabic teenager dragged away from his Gameboy on an errand he wants no part of. He hangs in the background, saying very little but giving off periodic sparks of impatience.

Tobi and Lisa take up the slack admirably. With little prompting, Tobi fills the air with a dishy, rambling account of his career: a litany of past achievements, shameless name-dropping, catty asides. Moon gives us the sense that Tobi's focus has always been on himself even while admitting that "no one wants to hear about the choreographer." Moon's Tobi is less the raconteur he believes himself to be and more of an autobiographical shill. Lisa is his dream audience. Mike? Not so much.

As Mike, Ryan commendably builds the dramatic tension just by using body language. As the interview unravels, we begin to feel the depth to his character's hidden impatience and disgust. Equally strong is Beard as Lisa. Her reaction to Ryan's aggression cleverly broadens the emotional range. She's able to show us that the middle ground she's occupied between the two men is eroding quickly. On these emotions and more, the cast really hits its stride.

For his part, Moon intelligently conveys Tobi's fear of his guest's hidden agenda, especially the feeling of being overtaken, as there is, literally, nowhere for him to run. Mike eventually storms out. But in the climax of the first act, the trio gives us some of the play's most gripping moments.

In the second act, Moon and Beard are alone and free to pursue new levels of their characters' intimacy and self-revelation. Until now, they have played their characters as emotionally constrained peacemakers, making their way in life largely through accommodation and appeasement. But in the merciful calm of this scene both actors shine, giving Lisa and Tobi's wounded spirits room to bond.

Match has no great depth as a story. Its plot is rather thin and transparent and most of the audience will have guessed the story arc (along with its conclusion) by the middle of the first act. But in Robert Ivey's show, this deficit is fleshed out by a splendid cast that brings genuine humanity to a tale we might otherwise shrug off.

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