Sometime about halfway through the Vienna Theatre Company's production of "Forty Carats," we find out the meaning behind the title. The play is about a woman distressed about hitting her forties, until an ex-husband declares that it's not in years she should think, but in diamond carats, thus making her a pretty valued gem of a person.
It's a nice sentiment, perhaps the only one in this overly long, stiffly acted and vaguely disturbing play about an older woman-younger man romance (and in case you weren't shocked enough, the plot throws in a younger woman-older man matchup).
It begins in Greece, where the stranded and uptight Ann Stanley (Jodi Murray) meets the young and debonair Peter Latham (Eric Storck). The ouzo and myrtle-scented air helps Ann lose her whiny inhibitions, and she has a one-night stand. Back in New York, the two-time divorcee goes back to selling real estate and closing herself off from all emotional attachments, even ignoring the attentions of a rich Texan (Thomas Breen). This causes much chagrin among her loved ones, including her clucking yenta secretary (Linda Gutesha), wisecracking daughter Trina (Lisa Hardman), dipso-grating mother (Pat Ward) and buffoonish actor ex-husband (Jeffrey Storck).
With all these opinionated loonies around, it's no surprise Ann is in such a state. But as played by Murray, all discontented sighs and please-feel-sorry-for-me looks, you don't care one bit. Go ahead, stay at home and soak your head, you want to scream at her around about the 100th shrug. Well, that's not possible, because Peter finds her by coincidence when coming to pick up her daughter for a date, and pursues her zealously, even wanting (gasp!) to marry her. Peter wants Ann even over the objections of his gruff father (a stuffy Steven Rosenthal) and the backhanded blessings of his philandering mother (a scenery-eating Joan Zeigler).
This goes on, back and forth, should she or shouldn't she, in scene after interminable scene. Ann thinks she's too old, but she loves him, but the age difference, but he's rich, but what will people think, but . . . . Spun in with little grace is the romance between the daughter and the Texan, jealousy from her ex (grossly overacted by Jeffrey Storck), weird references to Peter wanting a mother figure and Trina a father figure (ick) and too, too many lines that advance the play nowhere. All of the characters are also enormously selfish, wanting sex, money and gobs of attention, so there is only slight empathy for the lot. To add to that, almost every performer acts as stiff as plasterboard.
All is not lost. As Peter, Eric Storck distinguishes himself with glimmers of wit and ability, though sometimes he loses it when he mugs smugly to distraction. The set is clever and realistic as it moves from a Greek cafe to a New York apartment to an office. And, occasionally, there are some well-delivered and clever lines. But these moments are few.
What is particularly grating is that the subject, whether a woman should be allowed to have a May-December love, needs to be addressed in a society in which it's just fine for an old man to be with a young girl, but not the other way around. This play, instead of portraying it as a brave move by Ann, makes it creepy.
The play runs tonight, Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. in the Vienna Community Center, 120 Cherry La., Vienna. Saturday matinee is at 2:30 p.m. Tickets are $5, with a 50-cent reduction for advance reservations. For information, call 560-9568. Reservations, 255-6300, ext. 277.