Through Dec. 5. 8 p.m. Wednesdays-Saturdays (no show on Nov. 26), 5 p.m. Sundays (Nov. 15 and Nov. 29), 2 p.m. Sunday (Nov. 22). $25-$30. Actor’s Express, 887 W. Marietta St. N.W. 404-607-7469, actorsexpress.com.
Bottom line: A smart and funny comedy that may sound vaguely familiar, with Park Krausen as you’ve never seen her before.
By Bert Osborne
Sarah Gubbins’ “Fair Use” takes place at a Chicago law firm, where Sy, a clever lesbian lawyer, and Chris, a dim male colleague, both fall for the same woman, Madi, another attorney who’s assisting them on a big case.
Madi rejects Sy’s advances, Chris makes a move, and before you know it, Sy’s writing the love letters that Madi thinks are coming from Chris.
That synopsis may make the comedy sound like little more than a rip-off of “Cyrano de Bergerac” — but it’s part of the joke. Does this “expression of a similar idea” make Gubbins a plagiarist? Where does she draw the line between “creative reinterpretation” and “intellectual theft”? Does any author “own his influence” over people? Aren’t all writers “subconsciously informed” by the work of others?
These become questions for the three lawyers as they defend the hot, young novelist of an aptly titled best seller (“Transgressions”), who’s accused of stealing thoughts, if not words, from the unpublished manuscript of a casual acquaintance.
It inadvertently begs another question: Is it just a coincidence, or did Gubbins ever see Wendy Wasserstein’s “Third” (produced earlier this fall at Horizon), which debated a lot of the same academic and legal issues?
However deliberately she borrows from Edmond Rostand — or however unwittingly from Wasserstein — it’s a genuine testament to Gubbins’ keen writing that “Fair Use” finds its own unique voice when it could’ve felt simply unoriginal or redundant. A 2007 finalist in the Alliance’s annual Kendeda graduate playwriting competition, the comedy now receives its world premiere in a classy, sparkling production from Actor’s Express and artistic director Freddie Ashley.
The show features Rachel Garner as Sy and John Benzinger as Chris, and while the two of them make perfect foils, it’s the casting of Park Krausen as Madi that’s truly inspired. The actress is primarily known for her classical roles as a longtime associate artist at Georgia Shakespeare, so to watch her succeed as such a breezy, down-to-Earth comedian — in sexy, modern dress, to boot — is a “transformative” delight, indeed, as Madi might put it.
Gubbins’ secondary characters are also well-drawn. Tony Larkin plays the ethically conflicted client, and newcomer Laura Krueger steals scenes as Sy’s best friend, who offers free romantic advice but drives a hard bargain negotiating her fee as a literary consultant on the case.
As complications reach a fevered pitch for the play’s love triangle, “Fair Use” fizzles somewhat. At times, Chris seems a bit too dense to be believed as a guy who’s also a high-priced lawyer (even if it took him three tries to pass his bar exam). And there are other sudden changes of heart and mind near the end that lack foundation and strain credibility.
No less true now than it was back in Rostand’s day (and beyond), contrived happy endings are par for the course in most comedies.
Still, you probably couldn’t ask for one that was much more sharply written or stylishly executed than “Fair Use” — not to mention one that included the rare sight of Krausen in heels and a power suit.