‘Maybe Baby, It’s You’ full of nice surprises

The Kansas City Star

The American Heartland Theatre production of “Maybe Baby, It’s You” is full of all sorts of nice surprises, thanks mainly to the work of two talented actors.

But no surprise is more striking than the spectacle of Jessalyn Kincaid, a fine singer, intentionally singing badly. Very, very badly.

Chase Ashurst and Jessalyn Kincaid

Chase Ashurst and Jessalyn Kincaid (AHT)

The two-actor show by Charlie Shanian and Shari Simpson, first produced in 1999, is lightweight, agreeable entertainment that’s just clever enough for audiences to overlook the formulaic nature of the material.

The script is a series of vignettes about relationships — our expectations of love and marriage, our disappointments, the eternal divide between men and women and so on. Kincaid and Chase Ashurst play a range of characters of different ages and they work extremely well together.

We first see them as young people listing off the qualities each of them wants in a perfect mate. As the focus shifts between them like a ping-pong ball, their standards get lower and lower until they admit that they’d take almost anyone as long as he or she was breathing.

In one vignette a young wife wants her husband to be more spontaneous and embarrasses him in a restaurant by singing to him at the top of her lungs. In another a man finds himself on a blind date with none other than Medea of Greek mythology — a woman we could say has some serious relationship issues. The incongruity of thrusting Medea into a mundane modern setting is inherently comical and this episode shows Kincaid at her best.

Towards the end of the show we see them as elderly exes who still have deep feelings for each other. It’s an effective, surprisingly poignant episode in a show that more often than not embraces absurdity and broad humor.

Between scenes the stage goes dark and we listen to man-and-woman-on-the-street interviews about how men and women see each other. Some of these are amusing but for the most part they state the obvious.

Ashurst, an actor I had not seen before, leaves an indelible impression in his Heartland debut. He’s a man with formidable comedic gifts, including a keen sense of timing. Kincaid exercises her prodigious acting skills and quirky sense of humor and together they make this a palatable evening of theater. And when they dance at the end of the show they seem to be having more fun than anyone in the playhouse. (No choreographer is credited in the program.)

Director Paul Hough keeps things moving along at a brisk pace. He also designed the handsome costumes, which are different for each vignette and require the actors to do some impressive quick changes. Shane Rowse’s lighting is effective and Alex Perry contributes a clean, utilitarian scenic design.

Read more theater news at kansascity.com.

© 2011 Kansas City Star and wire service sources. All Rights Reserved.

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