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Between Us

Joe Hortua's absorbingly dark play sharply highlights the difficulties of the world of coupledom, albeit through quite familiar conventions.

The first act largely involves Joel and Sharyl, a divorcing, excessively bourgeois couple with an infant upstairs in their elegant, large suburban home. While "entertaining" the black-clad Carlo (Joel's friend from art school) and Grace, an urban couple with little money and no children, the pair attack each other with startling and shamelessly inappropriate ferocity. The second-act role reversal involves Carlo and Grace, who have dissociated themselves from the suburbanites as a result of the prior debacle. Joel and Sharyl, now reconnected after therapy (and after their child has gotten older), drop in on Carlo and Grace in the city, only to find the urbanites with a baby themselves, utterly broke, and quite at odds. The play ends as Joel agrees to provide Carlo with a large gift as a way to flash his accomplishments and as a defense against Carlo's sharp claims that Joel is without artistic talent.

Though the couples are generic, and the first-act confrontation accelerates far too quickly, the piece works because Hortua is able to capture carefully the often-overlooked despair that infants can unfortunately bring to a household. Hortua also effectively dissects the withering relationship between the two men, who continue to compete childishly even while they have children of their own. Nevertheless, one leaves the play somewhat unfulfilled, perhaps because Hortua did not take full advantage of ample opportunities for lyricism or commentary.

Director Christopher Ashley's cast members smartly talk over each other while displaying passion throughout. David Harbour as Joel drives the play with a brand of comic vulnerability that makes you think of Philip Seymour Hoffman -- in a good way. Daphne Rubin-Vega (Grace), Bradley White (Carlo), and Kate Jennings Grant (Sharyl) complement Harbour's brilliance, especially the vibrant Rubin-Vega, even though she is given relatively little material.

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