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Key Exchange -06/03/1999

Creative team: Director Rhys W. Lovell; Scenic Designer Gail Dobbins; Lighting Designer Nick Becker; Sound Designer Rhys W. Lovell.

Play: Key Exchange Venue: Heartland Theater, 1100 N. Beech St., Normal
Dates: 7:30 p.m. June 5 and 10-12
Cost: General, $10; students and seniors, $8
Box office: 309/452-8709


There's a kind of movie a friend of mine calls a "not chick flick.."

She's talking about a genre with certain similarities to so-called chick flicks, in that they deal with emotions and relationships, but with one big difference -- they're from a male point-of-view.

Think about "Good Will Hunting" or "The Brothers McMullen," where men stumble around on the bumpy road to love. These films feature the heartbreak, disappointment and emphasis on feelings you'll find in any stereotypical women's picture, but with an added layer of swear words, sexual conquest, and commitment-phobia.

If there is such a thing as a "not chick flick" translated to the stage, Kevin Wade's "Key Exchange" is it.

With a series of short scenes set on and off bicycles in New York's Central Park, "Key Exchange" talks about the state of male-female bonding. The play's milieu is urban and artistic, and its characters include a writer, a dancer, and a photographer.

"Key Exchange" shows us two relationships. First there's Michael, winningly played by John Whipple, and his troubles with his off-stage wife. Michael seems like a nice, sensitive guy, and he's demonstrated his willingness to proceed to the altar. Still, he's got major marital problems starting the day after the wedding.

And then there are Philip and Lisa, an on-stage couple teetering on the brink of a first commitment, an exchange of keys. She thinks it's like exchanging gifts, but to him, it has more to do with chains than keys.

Philip is confident and very verbal, but with cracks of immaturity. Afraid to agree to maintain any strings, any ties that bind, Philip describes Lisa as a woman he sees, a woman he sleeps with, but God forbid he should call her his girlfriend. Colin Babcock creates an attractive, recognizable character, smoothly negotiating the curves of Philip's emotions.

As portrayed by Molly Mulcrone, Lisa is lively and smart, charming and assertive. Lisa wants to proceed with a natural, normal relationship, moving forward when the time seems right. She's not interested in Philip's brand of bicycle race, where he feels the need to pace himself.

Against a simple set -- a backdrop of lush green trees, a park bench and a ramp for all the bikes -- the Heartland Theatre's version of "Key Exchange" looks great. The scenery, plus a parade of uncredited walk-ons who play passers-by in the park, nicely punctuate this low-key look at modern relationships.

All three actors go for an equally understated mood, offering relatively angst-free portraits of bright, articulate twenty-somethings racing in circles as they look for love. Rhys Lovell's direction keeps them moving in the right direction, simply but effectively underlining plot points.

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