Arts & Theater

Theater review: No matter your family situation, ‘Forever Question’ delivers laughter

Actors Dana Brooke and Peter Story wrangle uproarious laughs in “The Forever Question,” which is playing at the B Street Theatre.
Actors Dana Brooke and Peter Story wrangle uproarious laughs in “The Forever Question,” which is playing at the B Street Theatre.

A phantasmagoric set of three toy towers, one of which stretches to the rafters, confronts patrons as they enter B Street Theatre. It’s evidence of a design to entice children of all ages with a cornucopia of toys and colors. The couple sitting disconsolately on the stage at the center, Mike (Peter Story) and Carolyn (Dana Brooke), confront each other with the venerable biological and family question: Should we have another child? Carolyn’s hand reaches toward Mike’s thigh. He protests that as an unfair encroachment on his reasoning powers. They confront the question with a series of intensely comic riffs on human growth, sexuality, knowledge and whatever brought the couple to this point.

“The Forever Question” is about sex, love, marriage, babies and families. Most plays are about some versions of family life. Whether it’s “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” or “Death of a Salesman,” the central battleground is the living room and there’s often intergenerational strife. The family setting is there even in King Lear – and in this play we are eventually confronted with an aging parent whose driving has become suspect, though of course they didn’t have cars in Lear’s day.

This is a universal theme. Everyone above a certain age can understand it, relate to it and laugh uproariously at it, as the opening audience did. This universality is emphasized by the thrust stage and the two actors’ regular voyages into the audience for various confrontations and assistance. At one point Mike and Carolyn decided to visit their infant’s crib and advanced several steps into the audience to ogle over a gray-haired man as if he were their child – and comment on how sweet he looks while asleep.

Mike and Carolyn remain on stage the entire two hours, and the actors’ comic timing and interplay are superb and comfortable; even in mild argument, they are not George and Martha, and their marriage is not in any trouble. Story is a master of ever-changing facial expressions combined with varied hand gestures and body language to underline the jokes. And Brooke is often a more sober foil to these gestures. It’s clear the actors’ timing and stage movements have been masterfully choreographed by the director, Lyndsay Burch.

The actors regularly plunge into the towers subtly to retrieve unexpected tools of everyday domestic life – coffee pot and mug, a giant bowl of popcorn, a toothbrush, a shawl. They are also both adept at transforming themselves into many of the minor characters that are the subjects of, or deliverers of “The Talk” – for example, Carolyn’s Hungarian mother, complete with shawl snaking around her shoulders, glasses and Hungarian accent, played uproariously by Mike, as she/he delivers a comic mini lecture. In this case The Talk shifts from human sexual intercourse too embarrassing for the mother, to rhinoceroses, complete with children’s toys. Carolyn understands, a bit too well, and shows her mother the suggestive positions for the two toys. In the corresponding “Talk” for Mike, Carolyn plays his father, with a slight costume overlay, says about a line and a half, tells him to ask his older brother about “it,” and returns to watching baseball on TV. They also transform momentarily into a dazzling array of minor characters, sometimes figments of their memories and imaginations – first dates, first sexual encounters – and their children.

In trying to confront their forever question and make some sort of a decision, before Carolyn’s hand advances further up Mike’s thigh and makes the question moot, the play explores many predictable aspects of adolescence, initial sexual experience, pregnancy, birth and adulthood.

Carolyn suggests Mike doesn’t understand female sexuality and demands he explain “the period.” Mike responds, a bit hesitantly, with two short lecture-monologues on menstruation. He provides garbled and superficial commentary on the egg, the ovaries (he wonders if it might be one ovary), and then the disappearance, vanishing of “it,” amid hordes of sanitary products he’s seen available in stores. He concludes triumphantly to the effect: All is well, it’s gone. The key announcement comes as Mike casually brushes his teeth, and Carolyn informs him she is “late,” a term that grows in significance as they discuss it, until loving husband Mike realizes he’s on the road to become a father, which John Barth once described as information that comes to a man like the kick of a horse. Mike concludes a bit fearfully he’s been assigned a job that lasts forever and pays nothing.

The play suffers in its second act, after the first child is born, and the second child is a fait accompli, with fewer apparent targets for the comic wit. We watch the first-generation parents age, we watch Mike and Carolyn deal with the modern plagues of cellphones, texting and teenage indifference. But the play remained engaging, and the audience responded with a standing ovation. The topics of “The Forever Question” are universal: there is something here for everyone.

If you go

“The Forever Question”

Where: B Street Theatre

When: The play runs through July 14, Tuesdays and Wednesdays at 6:30 p.m, Thursdays and Fridays at 8 p.m., Saturdays at 9 p.m., with matinees Wednesdays and Sundays at 2 p.m. and Saturdays at 5 p.m.

Cost: $33-$47