Engaging “Terms” at Vineyard Playhouse

Friends since childhood, Sara and Jeremy meet monthly to support, advise, and goad each other through the happy/sad, good/bad moments of their lives. — Photo courtesy of Vineyard Playhouse

The two characters in Bill C. Davis’ play “Coming2Terms,” in its debut run at Vineyard Playhouse, are Jeremy (Todd Gearhart) and Sara (Kelly McAndrew), best friends since childhood — although Jeremy’s always held out hope for romance. They know each other well enough to be extensions of each other’s families, to be utterly predictable to each other, to fight fair and argue well (“I give recommendations, not orders,” says Sara in a retort) — and to do all they can for each other.

And now, it is Jeremy’s turn.

Sara is a lesbian in a committed relationship with Leslie, and she wants to have a child fathered by Jeremy, who’s recently divorced and feeling very down on love. The two meet once a month over a four-month period to support, advise, and goad each other through the happy/sad, good/bad, chaos and calm moments of their lives.

And of course, they meet so Jeremy can provide Sara with a martini glass of sperm for insemination.

And while all that is taking place, what the play really seems to be about is friendship, learning to accept, cope, love, and deal with life’s complications and challenges. “It is really about empathy,” Mr. Davis says, “and in this culture there’s an odd indifference.”

Despite the particulars, Sara’s and Jeremy’s insecurities, jealousies, and loving affiliations make empathizing easy. They are bits and pieces of all of us. Sara has a bout of doubt about Leslie’s fidelity. Jeremy is distraught about his declining mother after she becomes violent and has to leave her residence facility. Sara thinks things move forward; Jeremy thinks things move in a circle.

Babies coming; mothers taking their leave. Terms of discord and agreement. While Mr. Davis denies it was his intention, he agrees there is notable symmetry to the occasions that make up his play.

“I don’t know that I controlled that,” says the multi-award-winning playwright, actor, novelist, and the play’s director. Easy and approachable, Mr. Davis has described his writing process as, “Make it happen and let it happen.” He explains: “There is a conscious and an unconscious element. I create a structure and write it, and then let it go where it goes. It’s always an alchemy of things, people, and experiences.”

And in the case of Jeremy and Sara, he says, “No particular message, I was just drawn to these characters…I’ve learned that it’s the irregularities in people that make them fit together.”

With only two characters in four scenes for a total of 90-minutes, “Coming2Terms” offers the humor, poignancy, and the very layered dynamics of a relationship. We watch Jeremy and Sara debate life as they stumble over their own truths. Each is armed with bits of old conversations to use as ammunition, yet each knows when to take a turn at being conciliatory. Sara is generally the practical one (“Happy makes me nervous”), while Jeremy is more often emotional, announcing from one month to the next that he’s fallen in love. They affect each other, and what happens to one friend, in some variation and degree, happens to the other. But as Sara says, “The thing is, Jeremy, we’re not in high school anymore. We have perspective.”

The actors

This past week’s preview on Thursday was the debut performance, and after only 14 days of rehearsals, Mr. Gearhart and Ms. McAndrew, both successful theater, film, and television actors, seemed to thoroughly inhabit their characters, making them dimensional and completely believable.

Mr. Gearhart, who appeared on Broadway in “Bye Bye Birdie,” on television in soap operas and shows such as “Law & Order,” is utterly relatable and likeable as Jeremy. Ms. McAndrew, whose work includes “Gossip Girl,” “Everybody’s Fine” with Robert DeNiro, and the lead in the Broadway run of “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” has an effortless air as she endows the self-aware Sara with compassion.

Judging from their response, the audience at The Playhouse became increasingly invested in the two friends, offering the actors a standing curtain call.

“The audience seemed to connect with everything,” Mr. Davis commented the following day. He admits he was a bit anxious, Thursday being the play’s first performance. Like removing a speck of lint on an otherwise clean surface, he mentions that in the performance, a line deviated from the script, and he hopes it didn’t make the character seem less reliable.

“Coming2Terms” is a provocative offering, expertly presented, and one that once again confirms the stature and reputation of The Vineyard Playhouse.

“Coming2Terms” 8 pm, June 30, July 1-2, July 2-9; 7 pm, July 5-6; The Vineyard Playhouse, Vineyard Haven. $35; $30 seniors & juniors. vineyardplayhouse.org.