Union Garage, 1418 10th Ave., 206-352-1777, $12
8 p.m. Thurs.- Sat. ends Sat., Nov. 23
YOU'LL WANT TO BUY into the warm intentions of Gilgamesh Iowa, the latest play from Scot Augustson, because everything about it says you ought to: Both members of the two-man cast, Tim Gouran and Jonah Von Spreecken, are rising talents; director Keri Healey brought us Cherry Cherry Lemon, another friendly piece; and Augustson has one of the slyest minds on Seattle's fringe scene (his Christmas show with Pulp Vixens, A Very Lesbian Nutcracker . . . , was one of last season's true howls). Unfortunately, this look at the Midwest reunion of two longtime buddies just doesn't succeed as much as it should. The show has the heart of a touching relationship play—it beats and flutters appealingly—but there's not enough meat on its bones.
Gouran and Von Spreecken are, respectively, Jay and Ken, a couple of young guys who grew up together in the basement of Ken's house, where they spent their hours constructing a paper cutout world called Gilgamesh that they brought to life with their madcap imaginations. Now Jay, who's gay and living alone in the Big City, has come back to bolster the spirits of terminally ill, solitary straight guy Ken. They set about unloading the old trunk that holds their fabled land, and by re-creating that world's effortless vigor—joyfully improvising its monkeys and madmen—they find renewed strength in their friendship.
And that's the play.
Both leads have a lot of charm. Enraptured with the comic build of their storytelling, Gouran and, particularly, Von Spreecken show the friends caught up in the familiar thrill of trying to amuse the hell out of one another. This is Augustson at his loopiest and most engaging. Playing at being a veddy British "cryptozoologist," Von Spreecken launches into a fine bit of Python-esque absurdism concerning the stealth of lions in the jungle: "The lion says, 'Let me buy you a drink.' . . . And suddenly a plate of raw zebra meat appears at the table, and it's a party. And you're dancing to zither music and wrestling crocodiles, and you look around, and the lion is missing, and by Jove! So is your camel hair jacket! So, don't trust the big cats." The players are a tad too self-aware; they're having such a ball that sometimes they can't tuck their own enjoyment underneath their characters'. But there are worse crimes for actors to commit than having obvious fondness for their material.
Director Healey is also too fond of it, though, and pushes the performers in a way that doesn't always bring out the best in them or Augustson's amiable but rather thin material. Gouran and Von Spreecken have such a comfortable rapport in their moments of play that when they lurch into a loaded pause, lower their voices, and begin to reflect on "serious" stuff—like why Ken never became an archaeologist (?)—everything sounds full of very sticky sugar. People who are dying don't usually get treacly when talking about their imminent demise with close friends; it's woven effortlessly into the tone of everyday conversation. Here, you can feel the shifts into the weightier subjects too solidly— it seems at odds with the fleet touch of unspoken male affection with which Augustson has crafted so much of the play. Healey lets Gouran give everything too much import, while Von Spreecken tries the opposite approach and seems to be laxly avoiding Augustson's less subtle notions by breezing right through them.
Gilgamesh creates an ingenuous universe, certainly, but its sentiments, no matter how hard it tries, aren't developed enough to earn your devotion. Sometimes you just can't cherish a production as much as it would like.