According to Bay Area Rapid Transit timetables, the trip from San Francisco International Airport to Bay Point terminal takes 85 minutes— which, in Utah Theatre Artists Company’s production of Jerry Mayer’s 2 Across, is precisely the amount of time required for two comically mismatched strangers to solve each other’s problems, plus The New York Times’ notoriously difficult Saturday crossword puzzle.
The chance meeting on an early morning BART train between by-the-book perfectionist Janet (Nova Calverley-Chase) and free-wheeling man-child Josh (Jeremy W. Chase) is in the theatrical tradition of Neil Simon, like the sparkling dialogue that ensues. A common interest in crosswords won’t be enough to prevent this odd couple’s inevitable clash.
The conflict begins with Janet’s critique of Josh’s amateurish, pencil-it-in crossword strategy. Josh bristles and sparks fly, and it soon becomes clear that the dispute is about more than puzzle-solving techniques. Crosswords are a metaphor for life, and Janet—with her indelible pen and reference books—clearly must have the upper hand in that game, right?
Within Chase, I think, beats the heart of a classical thespian—and his character’s youthful aspirations to an acting career (“I was convinced I was the Jewish Al Pacino”) provide great opportunities to hear him at the height of his oratorical stature. By contrast, Calverly-Chase brings such a fluid naturalism to her knockout performance that the duo’s incongruity could derail a less disciplined production. Instead, under Lane Richins’ precise direction, the two somehow achieve near pitch-perfect chemistry by Embarcadero station or thereabouts, keeping this enjoyable comedy right on track to the end of the line.