A few years ago, James Venhaus wrote a nifty 10-minute piece for TheatreASAP, the annual 24-hour play fest, that traced a relationship from the end to the beginning.

Venhaus spent the summer expanding the piece, which is getting its premiere run at the Overtime Theater. The new work, retitled “Broken Record,” lives up to the promise of the shorter work. It’s funny, smart and beautifully realized, thanks to the assured direction of Catherine Babbitt and Cindy Fuqua and their terrific cast.

The basic format is the same: It opens with Ben (Tyler Keyes) packing up the apartment he once shared with Cynthia (Christie Beckham). Cynthia’s new love Richard (Robert Jerdee, making the most of a tiny role) drops in, leaving an album that she wants Ben to have. That sets things in motion.

As the couple move backward in time, they are gradually woven together, moving through the anger at the end of the relationship back to the sweetness at the beginning. One particularly well-played scene has no dialogue at all: Keyes and Beckham do various routine things, sneaking sidelong glances at each other, both clearly seething. Keyes and Beckham convey reams of information through body language and facial expressions — the audience doesn’t need to know what the fight was about. The fall-out is all that matters.

By the time the play progresses to the couple’s meet-cute, it’s clear what they saw in each other. It’s also clear that the issues that ultimately broke them up were there right from the start.

The bittersweet coda is perfectly calibrated, ending the play in a good place.

Venhaus was able to get musician Lloyd Cole’s OK to use his music throughout the piece. The well-chosen songs, some from Cole’s forthcoming CD, provides a first-rate soundtrack, adding another dimension to the story. (Side note: Venhaus took the title of the play from Cole’s new disc.)

“Broken Record” is another winning collaboration from Venhaus and Overtime, following just a few months after the marvelous “The Happy Couple.” Here’s hoping there are plenty more when those came from.

“Broken Record” can be seen at 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays through Sept. 18, with an additional performance at 3 p.m. Sept. 12, at the Overtime Theater, Blue Star Arts Complex, 1414 S. Alamo, Suite 103. There is no performance tonight. Tickets cost $9-$12. Call (210) 557-7562 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting              (210) 557-7562      end_of_the_skype_highlighting begin_of_the_skype_highlighting              (210) 557-7562      end_of_the_skype_highlighting for reservations or visit theovertimetheater.net to buy tickets online.

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Publication: My.SA

Publication date: 03/09/10