2 Across

REVIEW by Willard Manus

Jerry Mayer is a skilled writer of light comedy, dating back to l986 when he was aged out of television (All In the Family, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, The Bob Newhart Show) and became a playwright. His first play, Almost Perfect, was a hit and he went on to other successes, such as Aspirin & Elephants, A Love Affair and Falling In Love Again.

Obviously, his specialty is romantic comedy--boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl. He follows the same formula in his latest work, 2 ACROSS, an 85-minute, 2-character play now in its world premiere at Santa Monica Playhouse. This time around Mayer looks at the world of crossword-puzzle fanatics, of whom there are some fifty million in the USA alone, people who attack and conquer one or more puzzles a day.

2 ACROSS takes place in San Franccisco on a BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) train leaving San Francisco Airport at 4.15 a.m. on its way to the East Bay. The play takes place in real time, hence its 85-minute length. Sharing an otherwise empty car--suggested by Scott Heineman's ingenious set--are an unlikely couple. He, played by Kip Gilman, is a somewhat slobby, careless kind of guy who uses a paper bag for a travel kit; he's also Jewish (but non-observant), wise-cracking and likable. She (Susan Cash) is blonde, Gentile and super-organized, a psychologist.

She's also a hardcore crossword player, one who lugs huge dictionaries and encyclopedias with her wherever she goes. He's a neophyte gamester who is attracted by the swift, expert way she breezes through her puzzle (the same one he's struggling with). He appeals to her for help, which she gives a bit contemptuously and grudgingly.

From this "cute meet" the relationship between them begins to develop. An attraction is felt, only to be undermined by certain personal revelations and hangups. But romance and budding love win out in the end. Mayer triumphs over the predictability of his story by writing snappy, witty dialogue--and by penetrating to the essence of each character's humanity. It makes for a warm, laugh-filled, satisfying play, the kind most audiences are happy with. 2 ACROSS is also helped by the actors' strong, skilled performances and by Deborah Harmon's deft direction. (Note: the play is double-cast, with Sandra Kerns & Steve Vinovich serving as alternates). Santa Monica Playhouse, 1211 Fourth St., call (800) 863-7785 or visit santamonicaplayhouse.com/2across