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Colleen Madden and James Ridge are exceptional in Forward Theater Company's Love Stories
Married in real life, Madden and Ridge make these stories well worth listening to.
Married in real life, Madden and Ridge make these stories well worth listening to.
Credit:Zane Williams

Marriage is often referred to as a journey. Where you start and where you end up can be two very different places. What begins in hope can fall apart, yet amazing things can transpire from the most uncertain beginnings.

Forward Theater Company offers varied looks at marriage in an evening of three one-act plays, Love Stories, in which travel plays a key role. Colleen Madden and James Ridge, American Players Theatre core company actors who are married in real life, deliver exceptional performances that make these stories well worth listening to. The production opened Friday in Overture Center's Playhouse.

If the title sounds sappy, the plays themselves are decidedly not. Consider the writers, three of the 20th century's sharpest voices: Dorothy Parker, Bertolt Brecht and George Bernard Shaw.

While there are plenty of laughs, there are also tense, probing moments, particularly in Brecht's The Jewish Wife, in which a woman must leave both her husband and her country. Drawn from Brecht's Fear and Misery of the Third Reich, the play's backdrop is the rising tide of Nazism and the growing danger the wife faces. Political turmoil reveals the fault lines of a marriage in this deftly drawn sketch.

Brecht is bookended by lighter fare: Parker's Here We Are and Shaw's Village Wooing. In the first piece, a just-married couple has their first real argument while on a train to New York for their honeymoon. The wife frets about everything from her hat to the thought of masses of people getting married all the time, everywhere -- surely all those marriages can't work out?

Madden is adorable and exasperating as the new bride, and Ridge is charming as he reassures her, "This is no way to start a honeymoon, with all this thinking!" Nervousness about consummating the marriage underlies their fidgety conversation, to the point where the bride threatens she must write her thank-you notes that evening.

The final play is a classic odd-couple pairing, exploring what happens when a daffy extrovert and an uptight writer of travel guidebooks meet aboard a pleasure ship at sail on the Red Sea. When they first meet, their outfits (by costume designer Holly Payne) say it all: she looks slightly ridiculous in a sundress and floppy, wide-brimmed hat adorned with a flower, while he's sitting on the ship's deck sporting a three piece suit and pocket watch.

The longest of the three mini-plays, Village Wooing sags a bit in the middle -- the push/pull between the characters is drawn out too long -- but it's still filled with clever observations and unexpected warmth.

Directed by Paula Suozzi, this evening of love stories works in a smart twist by acknowledging the real-life relationship between actors Madden and Ridge. When they first arrive on stage, they're in street clothes and interact with the stage manager over the PA; these little bits of daily life are woven into the rest of the evening. It's cute, and it's also an intelligent way of letting the audience in on the workings of both theater and marriage.

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