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Lips Together, Teeth Apart

By Terrence McNally

Lips Together, Teeth Apart
Lips Together, Teeth Apart


Directed by Seth Remington

Produced by Remarcable Productions

At the Viaduct Theatre, Chicago

Unlikeable characters in boring situations makes for a depressing play

With all the terrific plays written by Terrence McNally, Master Class, Love! Valor! Compassion!, The Full Monty and Ragtime,  I wonder why director Seth Remington chose Lips Together, Teeth Apart ? The dated 1991 homophobic comedy (devoid of laughs) features two middle aged couples spending a weekend at the former summer cottage on Fire Island of the brother of one of the four visitors.  The deceased brother died of AIDS and left the cottage to Sally Truman (Jill Connolly).

She, together with her husband, Sam (Christopher Marcum) and his sister Chole Haddock (Jeanne  T. Arrigo) and her husband, John (JohnArthur Lewis) are assembled on the ocean side cottage to celebrate the 4th of July holiday.  We meet four of the most unlikable characters imaginable in what must be McNally’s  folly. I can’t imagine a more worthless and depressing play that contains two related couples exuding  much self-hatred and negativity.

Lips Together, Teeth Apart

Once we get to know these four, we’re ready to leave the theatre. Of the four losers – Chloe is the most obnoxious, doting and irritating character imaginable. Her antics dominate the 90 minute first act.  She wears us out with her attention-getting doddering. Then there is John – a mad-at-the-world sour-faced short-temperated man who seems bored with life. He pines for Sally, his sister-in-law with whom he had an affair with. Sam is the self-doubting, insecure husband worried that he’ll lose his Sally. Sally is the creative type unable to bear children who wallows in gloom.

In Lips Together, Teeth Apart, the dialogue is filled with showbiz references, racial slurs and nasty “fag” references. Three of the four are offended by the gay folks who live on both sides of their cottage. Da! It’s Fire Island!

The work drones on with more and more depressing situations until strong feels of self-hatred dominates. Talk about a “downer” of a play – there is no one to relate toward – no one to cheer for – and there is no satisfactory resolution for these miserable souls. I felt like I was in theatre hell for two hours viewing this negative work. I can’t imagine who the audience is for this play? Who wants to spend time with a group of depressed folks? I was ready of a stiff drink after seeing this show and I don’t drink!

Not Recommended

Tom Williams

Talk Theatre in Chicago podcast

Date Reviewed: June 3, 2011

At the Viaduct Theatre, 3110 N. Western Ave., Chicago, IL, tickets $18, Fridays 7 Saturdays at 7 pm, Sundays at 3pm, running time is 2 hours, 10 minutes with intermission, through July 2, 2011

4 thoughts on “Lips Together, Teeth Apart

  • Kristin Cotts

    I really enjoyed this performance. There seem to be a lot of plays from the late eighties and early nineties about upper-middle class couples on the east coast who struggle to communicate with their loved ones as they seek to define themselves. What makes “Lips Together Teeth Apart” work particularly well is the precarious balance of the four diverse personalities, each one complex in her or his own way.

    All four characters are deeply flawed and painfully real, having hit that point in life where the promises of their dreams have been drowned out by the droning rhythm of reality. I was intrigued by each of the four characters, because I felt compelled to understand why they had become they way they were. Chloe with her incessant talking and driving desire to be loved and adored (if not liked) is the most sympathetic, because she really, really means well. She is played with stunning energy, breadth, and depth by the actor, who taps into both the humor and pathos of the character.

    All of the actors in this play bring into relief the fears, misgivings, and inadequacies of people who realize they have grown up yet are still searching for love and fulfillment. Throughout the play, I kept thinking how lucky I am to live in Chicago where there are so many talented performers and so much high quality theatre and music. “Lips Together Teeth Apart” will entertain you and leave you with new insights into family, marriage, loss, and love. I highly recommend this play.

  • Wow. “Who wants to spend time with a group of depressed folks?” Might I suggest that you NOT go see “Long Day’s Journey Into Night”? — or any reprise of “August: Osage County”?

    It appears that you don’t like the play itself, which is fine, but then… why review it? True, it’s a play about serious issues, but there’s also comedic elements as well, to break the tension. I saw this production, and it’s very well-acted, with a beautiful & functional set, too, I might add.

    Yes, the character of Chloe initially is manic and annoying; but then we find out why: she knows about her husband’s affair and illness (this isn’t a spoiler, btw) and she’s having to pretend not to. Sally is self-absorbed, but she’s dealing with her brother’s recent death and her own miscarriages. Her husband — the most likable character, imo, is definitely afraid of losing his wife. All the characters have varying degrees of homophobia or fear of AIDS… which they acknowledge. The play does NOT portray this as an admirable quality, but as a reality that unfortunately still exists.

    What I liked about this production is that the actors make us feel empathy for the characters, despite their obnoxious qualities. I was moved by their plights and their struggles to face death, and face each other. Mary Poppins it’s not; but it’s not claiming to be that, either. This is a worthwhile play — and production — that will both entertain audiences as well as give them something to think about.

    Your “review” doesn’t review the production, but merely explains your personal likes/dislikes as far as plays, and that’s a true disservice to this production and anyone who may be considering going to see it.

  • Out of the many disagreements I might have with this review, I have the biggest concern with the notion that there is “no one to relate toward” or cheer for in this play. All four of the characters resonated with me strongly, even though I had nothing in common with them. The characters’ potentially dire situations, their despicable qualities — these factors were used to show something much more hopeful: the varied methods human beings employ to cope. Sure, their attempts to cope were pathetic (and even so, why criticize pathos in the context of the theatre?) but they were also valiant.

    All opinions on the script aside, I was absolutely impressed by the casting and interpretation of this piece, and would recommend it to anyone who is comfortable with the pursuit of a little truth and insight.

  • I saw the play last evening and I can agree with the statement that none of the characters are likable but I can identify with some of their inner fears or thoughts. It was a comedy in the remotest sense of the word. I didn’t laugh a bit. I was nervous at the many racist and homophobic remarks made by the characters. I consider the person swimming naked in the ocean as a fifth character but cannot understand the reason for his actions. A depressing play it was, but worth watching.

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