"Superior Attachments," the Woolly Mammoth Theater Company's current production, looks for portent and poetry in marital infidelity. While many of Carroll Carlson's insights are more pedestrian than poetic, his new play has engaging moments of steamy confrontation.
The story treats two young couples in Marquette, Michigan, a college town on the shores of Lake Superior (the object of a few lyrical soliloquys). When Phil and Barbara meet Brad and Wren at cocktail hour, they become fast friends -- with Phil and Wren just a tad too fast whenever Barbara goes off to Ann Arbor.
The complications that predictably result play like academic soap opera, much in the tradition of "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" At the climactic moment, Richard Bertone as the cuckolded Brad tussles with Rodger Wilson Smith as the unfaithful Phil: a fight scene fairly brimming with bloodlust and anarchy.
At the outset, however, one marvels that such wildly disparate people -- Phil, the precious poet; Brad, the nerdy vice president of student affairs; Barbara, the sensitive schoolteacher; and Wren, the would-be fashion model -- should have any contact at all. Their attachment, on the face of it, is hardly superior.
The answer is that they're all possessed of Carlson's sense of humor, with each and every one an incorrigible wisecracker. "I play Wren like a mandolin," Brad boasts to Phil. "I play Barbara like a tuba," Phil replies.
Inevitably, glib dialogue detracts from the drama -- despite Carlson's strength in depicting emotional extremes. The cast, under the direction of Howard Shalwitz, makes what hay it can, with solid performances from Smith, Bertone, Joann Robertson and Kirsten Vance. SUPERIOR ATTACHMENTS -- The Woolly Mammoth Theater Company at the Church of the Epiphany, 1317 G Street NW, through May 14.