Eli Wallach and Anne Jackson, veterans both at playing nutty New Yorkers, put spice and pizazz in "Twice Around the Park," which might have turned out bland in less able hands.
Despite some whopping contrivances from playwright Murray Schisgal, there's little shock of the new in these two one-act vignettes of midlife angst between the sexes: In "West Side," an out-of-work actor and a lady cop, both tenants in a chock-a-block apartment building, haggle over noise and lament celibacy in the city; in "East Side," a taxicab mogul and his unfulfilled mate come to grips with a fizzling marriage while doing kinky exercises to the strains of a tape cassette. All in all, it's grist for Phil Donahue.
But Wallach and Jackson, who are husband and wife off stage, bring both chemistry and honesty to the Eisenhower Theater's production, and wring out every laugh.
Most of Schisgal's barbs are aimed at women and tend toward the sexual: Leon Rose, the struggling thespian in "West Side," complains to Margaret Heinz, the street cop, that making love to a modern woman is like being "a mechanic working under an old station wagon."
The tough-talking Margaret in "West Side" and the whiny Edie Frazier in "East Side" seem a bit unformed and daffy compared to Schisgal's bedeviled men, Leon Rose and Gus Frazier. The men aren't perfect, of course, but at least they face life with a measure of self-knowledge. With justice, some in the audience may start to suspect the playwright's seeming lack of balance.
That aside, there's plenty to enjoy in Wallach's hifalutin elocution and grand sweeps of the stage, and in Jackson's hard-guy, gun- toting manner in "West Side" -- "I heard about you actors and what you do for kicks," she bullies him -- and it's fun to watch them chip at each other's armor.
"East Side" is the stronger of the one-acts, perhaps because the characters' worries are closer to Schisgal's own: He does, after all, commute between Manhattan and the Hamptons. There's an added bonus watching Wallach and Jackson doing broadly physical comedy as they romp to the recorded orders of a certain Dr. Oliovsky. By this point, happily, "Twice Around the Park" has become an entertaining jaunt. TWICE AROUND THE PARK -- At the Eisenhower Theater through October 2.