- The Washington Times - Monday, March 19, 2001

''You couldn't make up a dream. You'd have to live it first to make sure it was real."

So Cordelia (Kimberly Schraf) says to her husband, Stuart (Michael Russotto), in Ari Roth's "Love & Yearning in the Not-for-Profits and Other Marital Distractions" — a meditation on how a writer works and married folks explore each other's secrets.

The production has genuinely funny moments, with some of the rapid-fire dialogue offering true insight into the marriage of a Manhattan couple.

It's moving day for Cordelia and Stuart, who are packing up belongings in their apartment and moving over the bridge into Brooklyn, where they will gain, Stuart says, a little more storage space.

Stuart, a writer and teacher, is going through some of his old manuscripts and separating them into discard piles when Cordelia gets curious and takes a look.

She doesn't like what she sees: One work called "The Professor and the Whore" makes her suspicious, while another play contains a character based on her and the events in her life.

Cordelia insists that Stuart doesn't just make things up — all his work is grounded in reality.

The characters start to play out Stuart's scenarios, and reality sometimes intrudes, to good comic effect.

In one of his plays, Cordelia is having an affair with her co-worker Mitchell (Tim Carlin). She's a curator working at a not-for-profit group mounting an exhibition, and the two are going over invitations for an art opening riddled with errors.

It's really an "almost affair," since she and Mitchell haven't consummated their relationship, and "Love & Yearning in the Not-for-Profits" is full of them.

Cordelia and Stuart both look longingly toward lives that aren't theirs, the possibilities and pitfalls that would come with them. In the end, though, both are too afraid to commit to adulterous relationships.

One scene has a mild-mannered Stuart, who's been entertaining fantasies about a curvaceous coed, Jenny (Sarah Fox), finally deciding to take action. He kisses her and guides her to the floor of his office — and then she tells him he's not in next year's course catalog.

In an instant, he's up from the floor. Moments before, he had been listening, engrossed, to Jenny's problems with her play; but he waves her off, interested only in finding out who is teaching the class and wondering how he will tell his wife.

It's a funny scene, and one that is a great tableau for the rest of the play: Ostensibly about a marriage, it is in many ways about a writer's obsession with his work and the idea that everyone else shares that obsession.

Although pulling the fictional into reality by having the characters act out Stuart's plays is a neat trick, the play sometimes falls into a writer's workshop mode — too much time is spent delving into the method in the madness. It's a portrait of the artist as a restless, middle-aged man.

The third and fourth acts don't have the same madcap pacing of the first two, and the ending is wrapped up a little too tidily. Stuart and Cordelia resolve to love more, understand more, share more.

But their sharing is one thing the play hasn't completely delivered. It's never really about how they — two people married to each other — have come to this. They have gone on individual searches for happiness elsewhere.

Near the end of the play, Cordelia tells Stuart they have been flying on separate flights too long.

That's true of the play, as well.

{*}{*}1/2WHAT: "Love & Yearning in the Not-for-Profits and Other Marital Distractions"WHERE: Theater J, 1529 16th St. NWWHEN: 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays, Thursdays and Sundays; 8 p.m. Saturdays; 3 p.m. Sundays, through April 4TICKETS: $15 to $27PHONE: 800/494-TIXS

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