'How to Cheat' short on answers, which is a good thing

​"If the world were coming to an end, one of us would get a text. Right?" asks Louisito midway through Alan Berks's intriguing How to Cheat, currently running at the Gremlin Theatre in St. Paul. As occasional sounds of destruction crash in from outside, an unlikely pair talk and make love in a physics-defying bedroom packed with the forgotten flotsam and jetsam of their unseen host.

While the philosophizing of the early part makes for a slow start, the pair -- expertly played by Randy Reyes and Candy Simmons -- quickly pick up heat as their mutual attraction, or maybe just boredom, causes them to let down their respective guards.

Reyes plays Louisito Lobo, a biochemist working on stem-cell research who feels like an outsider wherever he goes. Simmons is Meredith, a world-traveling journalist who is unhappily married to a banker. They've met at some swank party, but fled the noise and hubbub to find a silent place to talk.

For foreplay, they talk about ethics and science, never really puncturing each other's beliefs until they finally find each other in the bed positioned at the top of the set. From here, Berks's play flies off into a string of dream and fantasy scenes, which let the action -- and the actors -- finally let loose. We get an intense dream from Meredith about her work, including a harrowing confrontation with an injured wild dog. That's followed by a terrific moment when their love making is represented by a series of card games, climaxing with playing cards spread all over the set. (Hmm, best not to dwell too much on that image.)

The characters' intelligence is always on display as they at first talk, then "cheat," and finally try to deal with the consequences of it. All the while, there are the worrying noises coming from off stage of explosions, gun fire, and destruction. 

Berks's play, a revised piece that originally ran in the Minnesota Fringe Festival, is about asking questions, not answering them. It's a stance I certainly approve of, as it lets the audience, which is often acknowledged as a participant in the proceedings, draw their own conclusions of what has -- and is -- happening. It helps to have a pair of terrific performers onstage, along with a stunning stage design from John Bueche that builds up layers across the stage the same way the script and the actors build up and uncover the story.


How To Cheat
Gremlin Theatre
2400 University Ave., St. Paul
Through December 10
For information, call 651.228.7008 or visit online

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