Salt Lake Acting Company's new comedy, "Manning Up," transforms the theater's old chapel into a man cave, complete with Yankees memorabilia, a beer-stocked mini fridge and movie posters from "Scarface" and "Good Fellas."
Sean Christopher Lewis' script mines the clichés of contemporary manhood, as two friends, Donnie and Raymond, (Lanny Langston and Jesse Peery), an English literature professor and an actor consider the implications of the impending deliveries of their pregnant wives.
The best part of "Manning Up" is its central idea, the potential of crafting a bromance comedy out of the fears of fatherhood-to-be. The jokes, about pickle-and-licorice cravings and what a baby in the womb does when their parents are having sex, will hit familiar notes for anyone who is pregnant like me, now four months along. Or, for that matter, anyone who has ever known a pregnant woman. Has there ever been a pregnant woman who hasn't joked about the alien being who has taken over her body?
But jokes aside, the heart of a broromance is the central relationship, and the 30-something characters of Donnie, who's characterized in the script as "a bit of a fop," and Raymond, who reveals himself to be a contemporary caveman, aren't developed beyond broad stereotype in Lewis' script.
The clichés of baseball, through the mouths of these characters, serve as a handy contrivance, rather than a literal metaphor that would have helped plow fresh and deeper ground. On opening night, Langston and Peery seemed to rush the delivery in the first act, turning many of the jokes into throwaway lines. They found their way to a better pace in the second act, where their chemistry was most evident in the strength of their physical acting and comic timing.
For actors, 90 minutes on stage in one room no matter how charming the props, lighting and set design is a tough slough. And the script of "Manning Up" reveals a contemporary "Odd Couple" problem: Donnie's neurotic character seems too effeminate to have anything in common with Raymond's rough-edged beer swiller. Langston's delivery, under Tracy Callahan's direction, doesn't overcome that script flaw.
Similarly, as an actor, Peery has a strong, likable presence, but his consistently ironic delivery doesn't help him illuminate the character's highs and lows as Raymond faces his deepest fears.
Some of the jokes landed with my husband, an expectant father-to-be, yet he wasn't convinced of the believability of the friendship until late in the second act. And he remained hung up on the absence of what should be the centerpiece of any man cave the man chair the beaten-up brown leather recliner that's likely to have beer stains and potato chips permanently crumbled between the arms and the seat cushion.
As a comedy, "Manning Up" remains content to be likable enough, and many of its jokes hit the collective funny bones of the opening-night audience. But in the post-Judd Apatow comedy era, this story works best as a springboard to another kind of conversation, one less concerned with contrived issues and more aware of the nuances of contemporary fatherhood.
Review: 'Manning Up'
Father-to-be "men's issues" comedy finds strength in physical comedy, although script doesn't deliver enough genuine emotion.
When • Reviewed Friday, Nov. 7; continues through Dec. 9; Wednesday-Saturday, 7:30 p.m.; Sunday, 1 and 6 p.m.
Where • Salt Lake Acting Company's Chapel Theater, 168 W. 500 North, Salt Lake City
Tickets • $15-$38; at 801-363-SLAC or saltlakeactingcompany.org
Running time • 1 hour and 45 minutes, including intermission