Kyle and Zoe met in high school. He was the science geek. She was the girl with a penchant for loud eye makeup and funky headgear. He was the introvert; she was a human disco ball. They wed a few months after graduation and their marriage fell into the realm of mostly good—deep love interspersed with jealousies and an inclination to push buttons.
“Married people enjoy annoying one another from time to time, ” Kyle says at the outset of “Touch, ” Toni Press-Coffman’s drama about the ways tragedy can upend and rearrange lives—and not always for the worse. (Jessica Hutchinson is the director.)
The origin story of Kyle and Zoe is told in an extended monologue that eats up much of the first act. It is a test of patience—Kyle will not be rushed, and as played by an empathetic Dan Granata, he holds your attention even when the story begins to drift.
The play is densely written—and overwritten—but it has an easy flow. Sit and listen, it asks, and let these anecdotes take hold. The picture will come into focus soon enough.
And it does, when Kyle tells of a Thanksgiving, a few years into their marriage, when Zoe disappeared into the night. What transpires afterwards—the agony of not knowing, replaced by the agony of knowing—plays out like an emotional disembowelment for Kyle.
But playwright Press-Coffman has good timing, and she starts to add other characters to the mix: Bennie (Kyle’s frequently hilarious best friend); Serena (Zoe’s sister, who isn’t afraid to walk into a police station and shout, “You stupid fuck!”); and Kathleen (a prostitute who fills the void in the aftermath).
Suddenly, there’s real humor in the script amidst the taint of Zoe’s horrible fate. Bennie, steadfast and true, is one-of-a-kind (played by Matthew Gottlieb). He and Kyle have been friends since they were kids. As they got older, Kyle became more withdrawn while Bennie became “more”—pause—“Italian.” It’s a funny line that Gottlieb sells like a pristine Rolex knockoff. Without Bennie, the play would leave a bitter, maudlin aftertaste.
The story isn’t especially deep, despite the subject matter. But it is intelligent and carefully wrought, and it speaks to how we live today. Life can seem like an exercise in dodging black holes, only to find yourself blindsided and sucked into the darkness anyway. (Nina Metz)
At New Leaf Theatre in the Lincoln Park Cultural Center, 2045 N. Lincoln Park West, (773)516-3546 or newleaftheatre.org. Thu-Sat 8p. $18. Through February 14.