This review was originall published in August, 2008, in the Windy City Times..
Nothing matches the deliciously painful euphoria of the Great Maybe. And few have articulated it with the humor, grace and precision of playwright Sarah Gubbins in Fair Use. As powerhouse attorney Sy notes in Gubbins’ snappy, provocative romantic comedy, the ‘maybe’ is something you don’t want to lose – ever. Maybe is that exquisite state of mind and heart that compels you to hold out for a hero in the wrong person. Lose it and you extinguish that stubbornly blissed-out belief that Little Ms/Mr. Surely Gonna Beak Your Heart will turn out to be your happily-ever-after. Give up the maybe that sustains such reckless, irrationally insistent love and you might as well douse the pilot light, turn up the gas and stick your head in the broiler.
With Fair Use, Gubbins pins a hetero/lesbo love triangle predicated on an exhilarating, crushing maybe to a backdrop of plagiarism lawsuit. And before we go any further, it’s critical to note that Fair Use isn’t finished. Directed by Meredith McDonough for Steppenwolf’s First Look Repertory of New Work festival, it’s got snap, verve, wit and a way to go before it’s ready for a full-fledged production. What First Look offers is not a polished finished product but the opportunity for audiences to be part of the product’s formation. As unfinished plays go, Fair Use is rich with provocative potential and marked by sharp insight and hilariously astute dialogue. The second half is troublesome, but Gubbins’s got the chops to fix it.
The triangle love, lust and loss is set in the offices of a powerhouse law firm. A Cyrano-like plot involving love letters authored by one person and credited to another is juxtaposed against a potentially Constitution-altering case involving plagiarism. The cast here is absolutely first rate, anchored by Kelli Simpkins as an attorney whose wry braininess is matched by a glorious touch of the poet. Equally wonderful is Halena Starr Kays, who is an absolute joy as a hyper-intelligent, straight-shooting literary and romantic consultant and aspiring “bike dyke.”
Where Fair Use stumbles is in its later scenes. The key hetero relationship is underwritten and s such, never believable. A bit involving voice disguise and a three-way phone call aspires to be the comedic climax of the piece, but comes across as the kind of sitcom schlock predicated on the assumption that audience is stupid enough to swallow the most preposterously implausible inanity. Finally, the law case so tantalizingly begun in the first act sputters out on the sidelines in the second. All that said Fair Use truly constitutes a must-see: The performances are terrific. Gubbins writing is packed with insight and humor. In short, it’s a show you want to be in on the ground floor for. And there’s no maybe about that.
Fair Use ran through Aug. 10, 2008, at Steppenwolf Theatre’s First Look Festival in July, 2008.