“2 Across” opens with an obviously distraught woman, alone, on a BART train at 4:30 in the morning. It closes with two former strangers leaving an East Bay station, united by an interest in crossword puzzles and, possibly, a budding romantic relationship.
It’s the 80-minute ride between San Francisco International and the Pittsburgh/Bay Point station that delivers a dramatic delight. The two-act comedy will be boarding passengers on weekends through Feb. 15 at the Riverfront Playhouse on East Cypress Avenue.
First-time director Kay Overbay, who did a masterful job helming this gem, has two things going for her. First is a smart script by Jerry Mayer, a veteran writer whose credits include work on classic TV comedies like “MASH,” “The Bob Newhart Show” and “All in the Family.”
Crossword puzzle fans will certainly appreciate the play’s premise: two strangers with a subway car to themselves, exhibiting wildly contrasting styles as they tackle the always-tough Saturday New York Times puzzle. Will Shortz, the Times’ crossword editor and NPR “puzzle master” on Sunday mornings, is referenced throughout the play.
But Mayer expands on the crossword theme to paint a much broader character study of two opposites placed into close proximity. The crossword puzzle becomes a handy launching pad for the all-too-real questions that life poses.
The other ace up Overbay’s sleeve is her cast. She could have looked into all four corners of Shasta County and not have found more well-suited actors than Lisa Murphy Collins and Bob Koroluck.
A five-tool player (playwright, producer, filmmaker, singer and actress), Collins is no stranger to meaty roles. In recent years, she has played Mattie Fae Aiken in the Shasta College production of “August: Osage County” and M’Lynn in the Riverfront production of “Steel Magnolias.”
She is pretty much note-perfect as Janet, the exacting, by-the-rules psychologist who believes crossword puzzles are a metaphor for life. Those who finish tend to be winners in life; those who stop halfway are apathetic quitters.
Koroluck’s Josh is one of those quitters, but he’s far from apathetic—especially when fate calls in the form of an articulate, attractive woman who happens to be sitting in his “lucky” BART seat.
A relative newcomer to community theater, Koroluck has taken to the stage with a vengeance, appearing in more than two dozen shows. His last star turn was as Tevya in the Cascade Theatre production of “Fiddler on the Roof.”
His experience shows in his work as the quixotic, carefree Josh, an unemployed ad exec getting by on odd jobs.
Together, Koroluck and Collins turn a simple subway ride into a fun and touching journey. It’s well worth the fare.
If you’re going:
Where: Riverfront Playhouse, 1620 E. Cypress Ave.
When: 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays through Feb. 15.
Tickets: $15, matinees; $17, evenings; $22, closing night. Call 243-8877 or visit www.cascadetheatre.org
Jon Lewis is a freelance writer living in Redding. He has more than 30 years experience writing for newspapers and magazines. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.