by Beki Pineda
HUMAN ERROR – Written by Eric Pfeffinger; Directed by Shelley Butler. Produced by Denver Center for the Performing Arts Theatre Company (Garner Galleria Theater, 15th and Curtis) through June 24. Tickets available at 303/893-4100 or denvercenter.org.
No errors being made here – human or otherwise. This is a funny, funny show full of heart and a much needed message in these times of divisiveness and separation. In Anne Frank’s words, “In spite of everything, I still believe that people are really good at heart.” The politics of difference are faced head-on and ultimately dissolved in this touching and meaningful script and performance.
Two couples have been informed by their fertility clinic that their much awaited embryos have been mixed up and wrongfully mis-implanted. In a funny scene in which the doctor (Wayne Kennedy) tries to deflect the guilt and consequences of this screw up, nervous and confused Keenan (Larry Bates) and Madelyn (Kimberly Gilbert) are informed that another couple has received their baby to be. The other couple, Jim (Joe Coots) and Heather (Marissa McGowan), agree to carry the baby full term and then give it to the childless couple.
This means that Keenan and Madelyn feel obligated to “get to know” Jim and Heather and share in the pregnancy. On the surface, they could not be more different. Keenan has an esoteric job in computers while Madelyn teaches yoga. Heather is a stay at home Mom while Jim has built a successful line of stores. Keenan and Madelyn have a city dweller vibe, listen to NPR, drink lattes, and have a highly organized and compartmentalized life. They are a loving couple who do not seem to have faced any of life’s harder decisions together yet … except perhaps the issue of fertility. Heather and Jim are the proverbial “old married couple” who are comfortable with each other and lean into their love. While not quite redneck, they certainly give off a “country folk” air, drive a truck, like to fish and shop at Cabella’s. Jim has an altar to Ohio State in his basement; Keenan doesn’t do sports. Madelyn teaches Heather yoga to relax physically; Heather teaches Madelyn how to relax emotionally.
Jim and Heather already have a family; their experience and casual parenting style reflects humorously against the naivete of Keenan and Madelyn. Heather can hardly keep from laughing out loud when Madelyn starts talking about how she wants to “maintain her schedule and lifestyle” after the baby is born. Keenan reacts with horror at Jim’s method of teaching his son to swim. It is these differences that create the first level of humor. It is the leveling of these differences into friendship that creates the heart of the story. But the differences lurk and still pop up in unexpected ways as during a “what would you have done if the situation were reversed?” conversation late in the pregnancy. Pro-choice or Pro-life nearly does them in. An ironic twist creates a totally new and totally unexpected dilemma.
Having grown up in Illinois, I’ve known guys like Joe Coots all my life. He’s not playing a good ol’ boy; he IS a good ol’ boy of the first order and it shows in his performance. His ease on stage creates a level of comfort in the whole house. His on-stage wife, Merissa McGowan, is a Kirsten Bell look-alike that moves with an easy grace and reflects the sparkle of a contented woman. Kimberly Gilbert provides the needed contrast in her character of Madelyn by employing angularity of movement and an insecure confidence. She has beliefs but needs to have them reinforced and embraced by her husband. Larry Bates as Keenan is awash with wonder at the situations in which he finds himself, yet faces everything with a smile on his face. Local favorite Wayne Kennedy gives medicine a bad name with his portrayal of the bumbling fertility doctor who is walking on eggshells to try to keep his clinic from getting sued. What a fun evening at the theatre!!
The multifaceted set design by Lisa M. Orzolek creates drop down furniture and nooks and crannies to open and shut to develop new acting spaces for each new location. A masterful way of solving the problems of multiple sets on a small stage. Being a non-musical production for the first time in a long time in this space probably meant that the lights and sound had to be completely redone technically. But they were redone beautifully in a manner that enhanced our enjoyment of the production by Lighting Designer Charles MacLeod and Sound Designer Jason Ducat. Sara Ryung Clement’s costuming allowed Heather a realistic pregnancy through all nine months and defined the characters beautifully. Director Shelly Butler, relatively new to the Denver Center, created a nuanced and confident production that could easily run for a long time.
A WOW factor of 9!!