THE LONG MEET CUTE
If you’re inclined to think in terms of film noir, you could very easily give playwright Jenelle Riley’s quite charming romantic comedy the subtitle “The Long Meet Cute”: Her play, A Kind of Love Story, is a love affair that truly takes its time in igniting; the central couple who’s destined to fall in love don’t even connect with each other until past the hour and a half mark. Mind you, it turns out that this is just fine, as Riley adroitly crafts an almost entirely beguiling tale of true love almost missed.
In Riley’s sprightly, slightly ironic production, the standard tropes of the stock Hollywood romantic comedy are amusingly melded with unexpectedly melancholy undercurrents that touch on the randomness of destiny. The play hints at the mildly appalling notion that, well, if you get on the wrong elevator or decide to take the stairs instead, you could meet the one true love of your life—or you might miss him or her and wind up alone for your entire life, eating canned green beans while cuddling your cat on a spinster’s sofa (not that there’s anything wrong with that, by the way).
Mark (Michael Lanahan) and Ally (Carrie Wiita) are the sweethearts who spend most of the play just managing to avoid getting together with each other. In an intriguing staging note, Riley has cast as her leads a pair of performers, who, while extremely appealing personally, are more likely to look as though they’d play the Second Banana wing folks in a conventional Romancer: This results in a show that cleverly has the feel of a romantic comedy “shadow play” in which the work’s point of view focuses on the characters who are usually the ones who exist to ensure that the more photogenic, charismatic Julia Roberts-Tom Hanks-y stars find the love they so richly deserve. Isn’t it about time that a romantic comedy focused on the Wingmen for a change? It’s a strangely alluring concept and one wonders why it took so long for someone to come up with the idea.
Mark is one of those affable, intelligent, and pleasant fellows who girls like, As a pal, though, they instantly ditch him in favor of the Hot Bad Boy they secretly want to bed and wed. During one blind date with a sultry blonde bombshell Lucy (Erin Matthews, hilariously sexually predatory), Mark tries hopelessly to keep the chemistry flowing, even as she texts her plans for an after date hook up with someone else later on. For her part, Ally is unable to make a clean break from her loathsome ex-boyfriend Max (Rick Steadman), whose sole commitment to the girl rests on his stopping by for frequent spur-of-the-moment blow jobs. Ever in the shadow of her voluptuous roomie (who just happens to be Lucy, snubber of Mark), it seems unlikely that Ally will ever find love.
Matt and Ally almost meet at several different points in the early narrative—but each time the karmic coordinates are not quite set for their romance, which only comes together when the heroes have jettisoned their respective baggage: In her case, the loathsome ex, and in his case, his desperate loneliness.
Riley’s staging possesses an almost beguiling intimacy, within which the viewer feels like he or she is actually getting to know the characters. The sweet, but never insipid “folks next door” aspect of Lanahan’s Mark and Wiita’s Ally are engaging and provide a nice contrast with their “parade of horrible” exes, roommates, and friends. Lanahan’s gentle, rather sensitive Mark is the picture perfect fellow you’d bring home to mom; a nice guy who is just waiting to get steamrolled by a sleazy wanton. Wiita’s commonsensical, girl-next-door Ally has just the right amount of quirk, without falling into “eccentric” mode. By contrast, the sheer horribleness of the pair’s respective dates and exes are simply hilarious: Ms. Matthews’ sexy man-eater Lucy is a terrifying nightmare date, unapproachable yet sleazy, while Mr. Steadman’s shlubby, pig-like ex-boyfriend is an oddly recognizable type.
By no means is Riley’s romantic comedy the perfect play: The fact that the show arose from Sacred Fools’ regular “Serial Killers” late night writing project, where the work was originally presented as discrete episodes, results in a show that structurally resembles more of a series of vignettes than a fully sustained narrative. The work also tends to plod, particularly in the mid-section, in which the desire to give each supporting character their own arc ultimately comes across as padded, which is a little wearisome. In addition, the omnipresent, and often unnecessary addition of an almost incredibly intrusive narrator, who really seems not to have any reason for existing, awkwardly renders parts of the work overly static and one-dimensional. There’s the making here of a first rate one act play, but much of the middle could stand tightening, particularly during sequences which echo similar incidents in other scenes. Nevertheless, the play certainly wins us over with pure charm – because of the buildup, the ultimate romance is entirely affecting.
photos by Jessica Sherman
A Kind of Love Story
Sacred Fools in Los Angeles
scheduled to end on October 27, 2012
for tickets call (310) 281-8337 or visit http://www.sacredfools.org