Arts & Culture » Stage

The Meaning of Life--or not

Two guys search for answers in Harry & Sam Dialogues


Are you in search of the meaning of life? Well, your quest could take a gleeful, somewhat whimsical turn into the lives of two wannabe experts on the subject, now touting their wisdom on the Stage Coach Theatre stage.

Not that you're likely to learn much. The last thing this pair of blue-collar Joes could ever be called is shrewd, though it wouldn't be fair to ignore how hard they try to be insightful. Meet Harry and Sam--the sole characters on stage during The Harry & Sam Dialogues.

This "conversational comedy," as it's billed, takes us into the lives of two fortysomething guys, Harry and Sam (Anthony Polidori and Kevin Labrum), who hit something of a midlife crisis. Best friends for 30 years, the pair reaches a crossroads in their lives that they have a difficult time overcoming. At the forefront are Harry's inability to communicate with his depressed wife and Sam's growing sadness at living alone.

Rather than dive head-on into these specific issues, however, Harry and Sam discuss and analyze nearly everything else under the sun, raising questions not easily answered. The first scene alone touches on the mysteries of Stonehenge, the Pyramids, Bigfoot, Jimmy Hoffa and the age-old dilemma of whether a falling tree in the woods makes a sound if no one is there to hear it.

Subjects turn inevitably to religion ("Who is God?") to death ("Is there reincarnation?") to relationships ("What do women want in a man?"), to the eternal ponderer ("Do you think gay men have a better time than we do?")

"It's the truth about men," director Erin Van Engelen said in defining the show's basic plot. "Men can't talk about what is really important. Here, they do so through metaphors and making up these stories."

Van Engelen keeps the pace brisk, moving Harry and Sam into one scene after another with few pauses, an important component of any play, but particularly in one where there's so little physical movement. Helping matters are various corners of the stage preset as a pool hall, a garage, a living room and a lakefront--with most of the props the characters need already in place.

Harry & Sam, though, works best because of its two actors. Polidori and Labrum convey such a natural ease together that you forget very early that they are performers inhabiting the lives of real, everyday blokes.

Polidori's gruff take on Harry gradually smooths into a likable and moving vulnerability as the character's troubles deepen. Labrum, by contrast, pushes aside Sam's supposed dimwittedness to reveal surprising depth when the characters' friendship is jeopardized.

The Harry & Sam Dialogues will no doubt leave you--like its often-flawed characters--contemplating life's many unknowns, but should reinforce at least one basic belief: Life can be pretty rewarding in the company of good friends.

The Harry & Sam Dialogues by Karen Ellison, directed by Erin Van Engelen

Dec. 2-5, 9-11

Stage Coach Theatre, Hillcrest Shopping Center, Overland and Orchard

More info/tickets: 342-2000.