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Posted at 3:42 PM ET, 07/15/2009

'May 39th/40th': Back to the Future

By Stephanie Merry
Fringe Festival

According to radio reports, the last of Al Gore's clones has died and Japandia has a new prime minister. Welcome to the year 3009. This is the world where "May 39th/40th" takes place and things have changed quite a bit -- except when they haven't.

James Finley and Lindsay Hayes star in "May 39th/40th." (Capital Fringe Festival)

For example, human beings have no interaction 1,000 years in the future, but when they do manage to secretly meet up, men are still from Mars and women from Venus. The upside of this whole isolation thing is that diseases don't spread and people can't murder. Of course, the negatives are pretty obvious. And so, when people start craving a nice cuddle, they have to break the rules. And that's how Sam and Louisa meet on May 39th. The premise is great so far, right? The problem is that the characters, living in a world so different from our own, seem all too familiar.

Sam has a one-track mind and a tendency for aggression. And we've seen Louisa before too; she's a mix of uptight and easily irritated. There's a long back-and-forth involving the possibility of a "purple exemption" (so that the two, who have just met, can live together) and the debate gets frustratingly repetitive. After a while, things start to get creepy, which turns out to be a welcome change from the tiresome conversation. The final minutes of May 39th are a smart blend of humor and pain.

May 40th takes place in Australia -- where purple exemption couples live -- and it follows a doctor with an agitated patient, who also happens to be her ex-husband. The themes and characters are pretty similar to those in May 39th (and the actors are the same), as James Finley's Jim seems desperate, while Roya, played by Lindsay Haynes, has a penchant for meanness. But I found the dialogue more interesting and less stilted. May 40th is less put-together (I understand it had some last-minute changes), but overall I found the piece to be more emotionally evocative.

I should also mention that the play's venue, the Trading Post -- a new Fringe space this year -- was steamy on Sunday morning. I'm not sure if the AC stopped working or what, but I have to give kudos to the actors for keeping their cool, as it were. It couldn't have been easy between the heat and the distraction of desperate audience members turning their programs into fans.

-- Stephanie

By Stephanie Merry  | July 15, 2009; 3:42 PM ET
Categories:  Theater  
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