Los Angeles Theater Review: WITH LOVE AND A MAJOR ORGAN (The Theatre @ Boston Court)

by Paul Birchall on October 9, 2017

in Theater-Los Angeles

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A FINE PRODUCTION OF A MINOR ORGAN

Midway through playwright Julia Lederer’s feather-light, yet rather droning romantic comedy, a character literally reaches into her own chest and pulls out her heart, which thumps and pumps and leaks blood into the padded envelope she shoves it into. The lovesick woman then leaves it in a New York City subway station for the man she hopes to catch.

No, this is not a scene from the grisly film, Se7en; it’s that most dreaded thing in theater—a Metaphor. And by the time that spurting heart appears, you may well feel the need to freely adapt one of Lederer’s increasingly leaden similes and say, “These metaphors weigh down your play as much as concrete shoes weigh down a mob victim who’s been thrown into the New York Harbor!”

With Love and a Major Organ opens with a strangely off-putting monologue from a lady whom we will subsequently come to realize is Mona (Bonita Friedericy), a mother who recalls that her son—being the scion of parents who each had broken hearts—was given a heart made of paper. It is already at this point that we realize, with some trepidation, that we are also in the realm of Whimsy—but it’s Whimsy unsupported by the earned sentiment it requires to sustain itself.

George, the young man with a paper heart (Daisuke Tsuji), is a single, 31 year-old who travels to work every day on the subway. It is during one trip that a fun, eccentric beauty spots and becomes smitten with him from afar (the character, played by Paige Lindsey White, has a name, but it turns out to be a plot point, so I’m omitting it from the review). She and he make brief small talk every morning on the commute. Although he seems to prefer reading his morning newspaper, her affection for him only increases.

When she’s ready to take things to the next level, the young lady starts slipping audio recordings of her love confessions into the jacket of his pocket. And when that doesn’t bear fruit, out comes her heart, which she leaves on the platform for him (or, if she’s not lucky, some snaggle-toothed homeless guy with a shopping cart). Meanwhile, the pressures of this weird pairing starts to affect George’s relationship with Mona, who somewhat irrelevantly takes refuge in the world of online dating with its series of humiliating speed dates.

Notwithstanding the pretentious novelties—which tend to reduce sympathy for the narrative—Boston Court’s production values are remarkably strong, and director Jessica Kubzansky polishes up the insubstantial and inconsequential nonsense to a startlingly appealing sheen. Francois-Pierre Couture (sets), Elizabeth Harper & Rose Malone (lights), and Hana Sooyeon Kim (projections) create a glittering subway car, complete with sliding doors and shadows of commuters lurking hither and thither behind the glass.

Paige and Tsuji are thoroughly engaging performers—particularly Tsuji, a one-time Cirque Du Soliel performer who surprises when his tightly wound character explodes into graceful, balletic movements. Paige’s gushing naivete is rather charming, and it is quite sad to see it eventually morph into cynicism—albeit tinged with wisdom. Friedericy portrays a thoroughly competent, smart, multi-dimensional mom—a depiction that one can’t help but suspect is rather more fully developed than the writing suggests.

The play itself, I am sorry to say, is the real concern here. It performs like a slap-dash collection of disconnected themes and ideas. While it’s understood that “disconnection” is one of the work’s underlying themes, the conceptualization feels too arch and twee, with sentiment substituting for the emotional underpinnings that would move the audience along with the high concept conceits.

There is much that is downright irritating here, frankly, including the not entirely palatable notion of the woman basically stalking the man until he dates her (think of how different this play’s tone would be if the genders were reversed, or if the woman wasn’t cute but an unattractive, smelly, vagrant). The weird undercurrent of resentment between the young man and his mother is also disturbing, as is the way that the young woman is totally defined by her love and desire for some dude—it is a less than moving romantic portrait. And where’s the heart in that?

photos by Jenny Graham

With Love and a Major Organ
The Theatre @ Boston Court
Boston Court Performing Arts Center, 70 North Mentor Ave in Pasadena
Thurs-Sat at 8; Sun at 2 (check for exceptions)
ends on November 5, 2017
for tickets, call 626.683.6883 or visit Boston Court

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