That ‘70s play
Loose Ends is a retrospective look at the 1970s, written at a time when it was too soon for nostalgia. The play enjoyed a seven-month run in New York in 1979, with Kevin Kline as the male lead. Together with a few other moderately successful scripts, it was enough to propel playwright Michael Weller into the screenplay trade—though none of his original plays (and he’s still writing them) have made the transition to cinema.
Loose Ends starts in 1970 on a beach in Bali, where nearly naked Paul (Michael Begovich) and Susan (Mary Strong) are all over each other, after a spontaneous encounter. Paul, coming off a Peace Corps gig, is headed back to the States to teach at an alternative school. Susan is on a globe-trotting trip with a girlfriend she’d just as soon ditch.
The play moves through a series of scenes at yearly intervals. Paul and Susan’s relationship resumes stateside, and in fact they ultimately get married, though Paul doesn’t tell his family at first. We’re introduced to their friends, some of whom serve as symbols for self-absorbed ’70s excess—a neo-Hare Krishna couple come in for particularly scathing treatment.
Somehow, footloose Paul and Susan develop their own careers—he as a film editor who gets offered a feature, she as a photographer working for glossing architecture magazines. It’s apolitical and very East Coast—these folks aren’t latter-day California hipsters retiring from Berkeley down to Santa Cruz; they end up as affluent apartment dwellers in the Big Apple because Boston somehow seems too small.
But even though they hang together, they don’t have common goals. Paul has a growing desire to have kids, and although she has trouble coming right out and saying it, Susan doesn’t want to go there. In fact, there’s a growing disconnect in terms of honesty. Even after they split up, these two can quickly find themselves back in bed, even if one has a date with someone else that evening. Sexual attraction, a few secret individual decisions, and an understanding that they’re just using each other is where it all ends up. It’s a situation that changed dramatically once AIDS arrived, and knowing that makes this part of the play a little uncomfortable at times.
Actors Begovich and Strong have the personal chemistry of this mutually manipulative couple working throughout. The supporting cast is up and down, though I did like Martin Lain as Paul’s brother. Scene changes are decorated with bits of period music and home-style slides. One hopes that the Actors Theatre got paid for product placement—there’s no shortage of beer cans, wine bottles and cigarettes in this show.