<p>Despite its title, "Listen for the Miracle" doesn't strive for anything miraculous or particularly unusual, theatrically speaking. Instead, actress/playwright Mary Cinnamon has attempted to write a simple, heartwarming comedy about middle-aged romance and marriage.
But even simple, heartwarming comedies require finesse and pacing -- by the performers as well as the writer. And those qualities aren't simple to achieve, as is indicated by this well-intentioned but disappointing Baltimore Playwrights Festival entry at the Spotlighters.
Maureen (Cinnamon) and Mac (Bob Bardoff) are both widowed and have been living together for some time, much to the frustration of their grown children, who are eager for them to get married. Most of the first act consists of the "kids'" efforts to prod them along. The second act begins after the wedding, and without giving too much away, that scene is immediately followed by the event that leads to the title.
The actual miracle turns out to be pretty much of a sitcom-style gimmick -- something between "Bewitched" and "I Dream of Jeannie." But this gimmick is used to convey a deeper meaning concerning the strength of love and the importance of letting go.
This is all well and good and rather touching. It's when "Listen for the Miracle" ventures into comedy that it gets into trouble.
Cinnamon's brand of humor relies primarily on strained dialogue and situations. For example, there's a joke in the first act about a dead puppy being too big to flush down the toilet. Though this isn't especially funny, it's repeated a second time. (Later on, after there was a human fatality on stage, I half expected to hear yet another version of this tasteless joke.)
Much of the physical comedy is based on goofy costumes and props. When Mac proposes to Maureen, he's holding a stalk of broccoli as a bouquet, and she's wearing a black lace bra on top of an over-sized T-shirt.
A running joke about Maureen hiding the portable phone does turn out to have consequences for the plot, but a lot of other comic business just doesn't make sense. Mac's and Maureen's children, for instance, are supposed to be nearly poverty-stricken. They manage, however, to come up with enough money to send Maureen a half dozen expensive flower arrangements in a weak scheme to make Mac jealous.
Like the script, almost everything about director Sharon Rosen's production tries too hard -- especially Cinnamon's performance as Maureen and Christine LaGana as her nosy neighbor. In addition, there's very little chemistry in the relationship between Cinnamon and Bardoff's characters. In contrast, the warmth between Maureen and her mother, played by Joan Corcoran, is one of the play's few subtle, credible touches.
Miracles, Maureen explains at one point, only happen to the humble -- not to those arrogant enough to think they deserve them. This play's conclusion aside, they probably also don't happen to writers who try to force them.
What: "Listen for the Miracle"
Where: Spotlighters, 817 St. Paul St.
When: 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; through July 30
Tickets: $8 and $9
Call: (410) 752-1225