Characters honestly meet their match

Extraordinary acting is at the heart of “Match,” a comedic drama and mystery — of sorts — by Stephen Belber about people who are not what they initially appear to be.

In a role played by Frank Langella on Broadway, Michael Medici is perfectly delicious as Tobi, an aging dancer and choreographer, in this local premiere from Expression Productions onstage in a nifty gallery on Mariposa Street.

The play begins as Tobi is about to entertain visitors to his modest New York apartment. Lisa (Jennifer Bareilles), an academic doing a research project on dance, arrives to interview him with her nervous husband Mike (John Gilligan) in tow — for reasons not disclosed at first.

Their conversation — about Tobi’s early career, his attempt at stardom and how he ended up in an unusual field creating dances for opera productions — is filled with fun details and famous names, and is a real treat for theatergoers and performing-arts lovers.

Medici as Tobi is entirely believable as he revels in stories from the past and fusses about his place and serving his guests. When the couple’s questions unexpectedly start to take him into uncharted territory, he remains sympathetic as he keeps a public face but clearly experiences myriad, unpleasant emotions at their pointed, personal queries.

In “Match,” Belber again explores and exposes the consequences of revealing hidden secrets, as he did in his play “Tape” (which became a movie with Ethan Hawke, Uma Thurman and Robert Sean Leonard).

While the buildup to the revelations might not be as dramatic or suspenseful as Belber intends, and the resolution might be unrealistically easy and pat, all three characters’ interconnected journeys nonetheless resonate — mostly because they appealingly confront their issues.

Under taut direction by Andrey Esterlis, who produced the 90-minute piece as well, Bareilles and Gilligan (in parts played by Jane Adams and Ray Liotta in New York) complement Medici with measured performances. Bareilles nicely reveals empathy and loneliness, while Gilligan unleashes his pent-up anger in a wholly realistic manner.

lkatz@sfexaminer.com
THEATER REVIEW

Match

Presented by Expression Productions  

Where: Royce Gallery, 2901 Mariposa St., San Francisco

When: 8 p.m. Thursdays-Sundays; closes Dec. 18

Tickets: $12 to $28

Contact: (866) 811-4111, www.matchonstage.com

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