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Ancient History’ digs up laughs

Christie Bolsen | Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Fast, cheap and fun – if that’s your preferred style, think about spending time with “Ancient History” tonight.Just a little over one hour and only two dollars, “Ancient History” is a fling of a play about relationships that are sort of like your life, but funnier. But for all its laughs, it carries a deeper message about commitment, memories and how passing time affects both.Jack (Bryce Cooper) is brimming with energy and thinking about sex. All the time. His girlfriend Ruth (Kathleen Ryan) is thinking more about marriage, kids and which Hebrew school the aforementioned kids should attend. As the play opens, they are dancing in their bathrobes and rhapsodizing about the paradise that is their relationship. They dance in sync and live in utopia as Jack dips Ruth to the romantic music.It seems too good to be true – and it is. Little problems spring up like baby weeds in a garden. Jack has a tendency to repeat stories and to refer to his “horrid ex-wife.” A birthday present incident will relate to anyone who has ever opened something lame in a pretty box, and discussion of the past creates ripples on the surface of the utopia.The scenes play like memories, acted out one way and then in a slightly altered version. Proposals shift the ambiance immediately, as they are likely to do in real life. Cynicism starts to sneak up on the blind optimism of the opening scene, and kids, Germans, love, Jews and religion in general are all under scrutiny, or even attack. Jack, who has German heritage and an affinity for making Jewish jokes, irritates the Yiddish-vocabulary-dropping Ruth.Jack thinks hell is other people, but Ruth later disagrees.”Hell isn’t other people,” she says. “Hell is remembering other people.”It takes until the final scene to understand this line fully, but there’s more relationship muck to trudge through first. The arguments increase in frequency and volume; Jack asks sarcastically at one point, “Do I hear silence?” in response to one of Ruth’s pouts. The intensity still gives way to lighter moments, like Jack’s hilarious impression of a friend’s wealthy Israeli husband or his inclusion of gin as a hormone.It doesn’t end up that one thing that comes between the perfect couple. It’s everything – her parents, his job, her friends, his cynicism and even her shoes. He tells her about “stairway thoughts” when they talk about the past – it’s when you’re on the stairs to leave and “you realize what you should have said to the bastard back there.” Little do they realize, they’re making their own history, paved with stairway thoughts and confused recollections.It could have been his immaturity or one-track mind (“We have to do something about this chronic horniness!”), or it could have been her focus on money and stability, but in the end the audience can’t tell who is more at fault. There’s too much “What?” followed by, “Nothing,” toward the end for the relationship to stand up to heated discussions. Finally, Jack ends up at the bar, reeling from a quick engagement.”Life took a bit of a zigzag there at the party, but that’s what parties are for,” he says in an inadvertently sage comment.Hallie Taylor, the director, picked the play because its message stood out from the other plays she read.”It’s about how people relate and how we deal with situations,” Taylor said, “and how big of an impact people can have on us even after things are over. They play is obviously a memory play.”Taylor thought that the actors were a perfect fit for their parts.”I thought they just did a fabulous job … they just seem to capture that playful joy, especially in the beginning and that sudden switch,” Taylor said.Audience member Matt Nieves agreed about the acting.”I thought it was really good – they seemed to have good chemistry onstage,” Nieves said.Bryce Cooper, the male lead, thought that the characters were effective because they remind the audience how complicated relationships are.”I just think it’s sad sometimes how people who can be so in love with each other or have such a strong relationship can end just on a few different opinions, like religion or children,” Cooper said. “I think it’s especially pertinent at a place like Notre Dame.”He thought the humor was derived from how he and Ryan played off one another.”They ways they interact with each other are very sardonic and I think that when two people know each other really well, and play around with each other like this, that’s how you maintain a relationship for so long,” Cooper said. “You entertain each other, and it entertains the audience as well.”He cited highs and lows in the play as being one of its strengths.”The best plays are ones that have a range of emotion in them, where the audience will feel that range of emotion. I think this is definitely one of them, where they certainly will laugh but by the end they’re also sad and maybe thinking about their own relationships – I think it’s easy to put yourself in the shoes of the characters,” Cooper said.Those emotions certainly reached out to audience member Keith Harwood, who deliberated for a few minutes before delivering his verdict on the night.”I’m speechless,” he said.”Ancient History” will also be performed tonight at the Regis Philbin Studio Theater in the Performing Arts Center at 7:30. Tickets are $2 and can be purchased at the door.