“Cover” at the Midtown International Theatre Festival at The Dorothy Streslin Theatre (Closed Tuesday July 29, 2014)

Written by Bill McMahon
Directed by Paul J. Michael
Reviewed by David Roberts and Joseph Verlezza
Theatre Reviews Limited

David and Zan, a young Westchester married couple and Peter and Beth, a married couple in their late 40s collide in a fragile foursome in Bill McMahon’s new “Cover” currently running in NYC at part of the Midtown International Theatre Festival. What happens in this refreshing play might not “make sense” to any of the four characters; however, they each come to understand they “are in the middle of something” important – and that something has everything to do with love and becoming honest with themselves and their true identity and status.

All four characters are living under cover to some degree and it is in the careful maintenance of those covers that each preserves a center and each experiences a defining moment that jeopardizes their zones of safety and comfort. David (Max Rhyser) finds safety in Peter (Tony Travostino) the older man who serves as a healthy ersatz father (his own father was abusive and distant) and a fulfilling partner in love and sex. Their relationship provides cover for his disappointing and unfulfilled relationship with his “wound-as-tight-as-a-mummy” wife Zan (whose only surcease is a daily dose of Xanax and other prescription psychotropic drugs.

Peter’s cover is his strong professional exterior that shelters him from his fears of getting older and his disdain for his wife Beth. Beth’s (Karin de la Penha) cover is her successful career in acquisitions and divestments, a juicy trope for the way Beth deals with professional and relationship “clients” including her husband and sons. Zan’s (Olivia Mell) cover is her co-dependent behavior and her need to be cared for.

Bill McMahon’s script is disarmingly complex. The relatively accessible story of boy meets man, man leaves wife, and boy struggles with leaving girl is the softer side of the plot with an underbelly barnacled with intrigue, years of layered fear and disappointment, and a ground-breaking glimpse into the real meaning of falling in love. When they first meet at the train station, David and Peter have no idea what missing the 4:55 can unleash.

When they ask one another, “What if neither of us is what we thought we were,” they understand that “they will work it out.” Their relationship is a complicated and rich process and under Paul J. Michael’s careful and sensitive direction, David and Peter do attempt to understand their identities, sexual and ideological. After David realizes they have blown their cover and both Beth and Zan know of their affair, Peter wants David to live with him and announces he “would die for him.”

This is not a love story but a story about love. Who we love, why we love, how we love, when we love and the puzzling consequences love can inflict on the participants. The story is non-judgmental, places no stereotypical labels, holds no accusations, and realizes that authentic love might be involuntary and unintentional. One conclusion that is clear that when you acquiesce to love, everything will change and nothing can ever be the same.

Max Rhyser shows a precise, honest, assiduous David, who is young, confused and might just be in love with love. Tony Travostino creates a cautious, wounded, vulnerable Peter who is fully capable of battle when necessary and surrender when inherent. Karin de la Penha is ice cold as Beth but is so competent of melting away her frigid exterior with subtle warmth from within when needed. Olivia Mell is broken, delusional and paranoid as Zan but is quick to beguile to conquer her needs. These four actors are solely remarkable and as an ensemble they are fierce force that ignites the stage. Prepare to hear more about “Cover” in the not-so-distant future.