Theater

Good Game: A Well-Matched Set of Actors Do Their Best With Thin Material

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In Andy Bragen’s comic quartet Don’t You F**king Say a Word, two couples try their best to become friends. In the end, their attempt is a swing and a miss — as is the rather gentle, tennis-obsessed drama that surrounds it.

Russ (Michael Braun) and Brian (Bhavesh Patel) meet through their respective girlfriends, Kate (Jennifer Lim) and Leslie (Jeanine Serralles). The women went to college together, but they’re unenthusiastic about reconnecting. The men, though, spot tennis-mania in each other’s eyes and start a years-long ritual of morning games. These intensify until Russ, annoyed at dodgy line-calls, turns menacing. Brian shouts the play’s title, grape Gatorade is spilled. Amateur tennis — purple in tooth and claw.

The play’s about the rivalry between the two men, but that’s easily dispensed with. They’re vain and petty on the court; then they blow up. OK, so that molehill has been well and fully described. How to fill the rest of the show’s eighty minutes? This vacuum is the play’s main trouble. Bragen has the two girlfriends — sophisticated women supporting aimless men — narrate their partners’ tussles on the court as though they’re investigating something fascinating. But they never quite come up with a revelation.

Director Lee Sunday Evans offers a stage of powder-blue hardcourt, emphasizing the life-as-sport metaphor. “Everyone likes to win. Men in particular,” says Leslie, a truism that’s almost the only thought in the text, and as such is repeated a great deal. To fill in the comic void, Serralles rolls her eyes at the audience over Patel’s misbehavior, while Lim and Braun find a warmth together that’s lovely to watch. Though the play doesn’t go particularly deep, it does offer us this adorable actors’ doubles match as recompense. When Braun smiles at Patel, the emotion radiates between them. Serralles extends herself for Lim, and we all feel a sense of welcome. In a difficult week, Don’t You‘s cast accomplishes the impossible: They manage to be playful.

This is a play best enjoyed as an experts’ warm-up. The cast boasts four very fine Off-Broadway performers, and they amplify the moments of connection within the otherwise slight piece. Even without much of a game to play, their technique’s the reason to go. Sometimes we show up courtside just to watch strong players rally. For that, and for its sweetness, Don’t You is an effort that just makes it over the net.

Don’t You F**king Say a Word

Directed by Lee Sunday Evans

59 East 59th St, Manhattan

212-279-4200; 59e59.org

Through December 4

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