Urban Samurai Productions; at Cedar-Riverside People's Center through October 12
Toni Press-Coffman's Touch opens with a monologue by Kyle (Matthew Greseth), a moony astronomer, that goes on. And on. It begins with the first time he saw his future wife, Zoe, in high school, touches on his childhood and overall nerdly tendencies, then traces the euphoria of his young marriage to the free-spirited Zoe. Soon enough we get the picture that things have gone horribly wrong. Greseth is smooth and captivating as a man in whom love awoke experiences and emotions he could barely fathom, and then tortured him with loss as we realize his beloved is no longer with us. It isn't giving too much away to reveal that Zoe was a murder victim, and Greseth's haunted, furtive asides reveal that Kyle is staring into the bleak abyss of bereavement (complete with many varieties of wrenching what-ifs). Next in the spotlight is childhood friend Benny (Nate Hessburg), who has grown up into a doctor but still maintains a jealous attachment to his pal. Then we meet Zoe's sister Serena (Marcia Svaleson), a rather brittle schoolteacher whom Kyle cuts out of his life after losing his wife. There's no set here, and the most minimal of props, but director Paul von Stoetzel maintains a consistent pace as these characters wend their way through the separate versions of aftermath. The discovery of Zoe's body (onstage) adds a spike of uncertainty to the memory of his wife, and soon enough Kyle begins an arrangement with Kathleen (Mykel Pennington) that deepens the sense of his proclivity for compulsive escape (Press-Coffman leans a bit too hard on the astronomical themes, but we do get the point that Kyle is not entirely of this earth). This is a tough, challenging show, a long plunge into darkness, and there are moments when the intensity doesn't entirely connect (Hessburg gives us Benny as a sweet lug with a temper, and is at his best at the graveside scene, but we need to sense more turbulence from this other, ostensibly stunted man of science). As an ensemble, though, all four players compel attention and make a convincing case that love does, indeed, hurt.