Joel Bryant and Andrea Gwynnel. Photo by Greg Brunton
By Jack Lyons Theatre and Film Critic. Member of American Theatre Critics Association

The impact that crossword puzzles play around the world obviously is unknown, despite the fact that millions indulge themselves every day solving or at least, trying to solve these literary challenges known as the ‘war of the words’.

What is known, however, is the role that one particular New York Times puzzle plays, in the current CV REP stage production, “2 Across”, in Rancho Mirage. This delightful comedy of words and puzzles, and conversation, written by prolific comedy TV writer/producer Jerry Mayer, is seamlessly and creatively directed by Deborah Harmon.

Audiences can always rely on the technical/creative team credits at CV REP as being first rate. Theatrical productions often win over the hearts and minds of their patrons when they walk into the auditorium. CV REP is blessed with the creativity and artistry of its resident Set Designer and Emmy Award winner Jimmy Cuomo, who never fails to impress his audience. In “2 Across”, two stars perform their magic on a BART train set that feels so visually real, that we’re ready to exit when we hear our station being called by the car’s recorded conductor’s voice. Now, that’s an almost virtual reality experience.

The story hook, in short, that brings two strangers aboard a San Francisco BART train at 4:30 AM is a pesky NY Times crossword puzzle, and how each reacts to it and their personal situations.  They’re alone in the car, each is married, and both are silently challenging the crossword author. When Josh (a terrific Joel Bryant), tosses his puzzle away in frustration.  Janet (a lovely and prim Andrea Gwynnel) snaps, “Crosswords are a metaphor for life, those who finish, succeed; those who don’t, fail.”  Thus, setting up a witty, hilarious ‘He said. She said.’ dialogue and at times, delivering many poignant moments of personal revelations, by Josh and Janet in the bargain.

Although the play is performed without an intermission, running about 85 minutes, we’re quickly drawn into the play’s narrative thanks to the wonderful on-stage chemistry of Mr. Bryant and Ms. Gwynnel.   As many airline travelers can attest, when traveling alone, seatmates frequently get chatty, especially on non-stop, coast to coast flights.  English travelers are amazed at how most Americans when traveling reveal so many bits of information about themselves to strangers.  The American rationale is: it’s such a huge country and the odds of ever seeing one other again is highly remote. So what’s the risk?

The dialogue between Janet and Josh says a lot about our civic discourse, social mores, our working lives, and our frustrations in dealing with our families and friends.  Janet, is sharp-tongued because she’s dealing with a ‘flight from the nest’ syndrome.  Her young 18-year old son has just enlisted in the Marine Corps, and is now on his on his way to Parris Island boot camp. She feels that her world is falling apart.

Josh, an outgoing, social guy now begins to ease Janet’s anxiety by acting as a volunteer advisor.  It’s his way of paying life’s benefits forward.  He left his family’s button factory business seeking new and exciting opportunities.  Although, he’s currently between jobs, Josh is always upbeat; but no more spoiler alerts from me.  You will just have to see for yourself how Mr. Bryant and Ms. Gwynnel, in highly nuanced performances, resolve their character’s situations.  A great deal of the success of this entertaining comedy rests with director Harmon whose light touch brings out the best in her two stars.  Their comedy timing is impeccable and a joy to watch.

Helping to make the stage magic we see on Designer Cuomo’s set, is a pitch-perfect lighting design by technical manager Moira Wilkie Whitaker that allows the audience to appreciate the costumes designed by Julie Onken; with Hair and Makeup designs by Lynda Shaeps, along with an excellent spot-on sound design by Kate Fechtig.  Louise Ross stage manages.

“2 Across”, performs at CV REP theatre in Rancho Mirage and runs through May 20, 2018.  Don’t Miss It!