Paul Quinn manufactures paper clips, which, as a friend reminds him, are intended to hold things together. Pickles Amalfitano creates sculptures that she hopes will connect with people.
At the start of Susan Middaugh's A Modern Pas de Deux at the Vagabond Players, however, neither of these middle-aged singles has been able to connect or hold a romantic relationship together.
The desire to break that pattern is a valid premise for a play. But in director Barry Feinstein's Baltimore Playwrights Festival production, it's difficult to see what these two lost souls see in each other. Granted, Peggy Dorsey's Pickles (her delicatessen-owner father saddled her with that nickname) tells her sister she thinks Paul is "cute." Mostly, however, Steve Lichtenstein's Paul pursues her, and she pulls away.
He's interested in creature comforts; she's interested in scraping by on the bare necessities and putting all of her energies into her art. He, meanwhile, appears to know nothing about art; his sole interest in her work lies in finding a way to merchandise it.
The play's supporting characters are not only more interesting than the protagonists, they seem as if they'd make a better couple. In the role as Paul's close friend, a bartender named George, Archie Williams is good-hearted and wise. And as Pickles' sister, Belle, Helenmary Ball exudes altruism. Both characters are widowed, and both are far more concerned about others than about themselves.
Playwright Middaugh makes some missteps here, too, though. A crucial first-act scene in which Belle announces she's going to volunteer in Israel takes place over the phone, instead of face to face. The sisters do have one short scene together, but it's not enough to prepare us for the eventual impact of Belle's decision.
And a pivotal second-act scene in which George poses as Neptune for Pickles looks ludicrous. When we see George wearing a woman's platinum wig and a diaper, it's impossible to regard Pickles as a serious artist.
The play's title derives from the fact that Paul and Pickles meet at a dance, and dancing seems to be the only thing that brings them together. Smitten Paul also claims that talking to Pickles is like dancing, but too often this Pas de Deux appears to have two left feet.
Showtimes at the Vagabonds, 806 S. Broadway, are 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 7 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $15. Call 410-563-9135.
Sci-tech play award
Baltimore native Jamie Pachino's Splitting Infinity has won first prize in an international competition for plays about science and technology. The $10,000 prize was awarded by the Professional Artists Lab and California NanoSystems Institute at the University of California, Santa Barbara.
A drama about the relationship between a rabbi and an astrophysicist, who tries to use physics to disprove the existence of God, Splitting Infinity was also presented as part of New York's Summer Play Festival last month.