TIMES OF SAN DIEGO
Ah, the vagaries of love. Or, as the musical “Romance/Romance” would have it, “the little comedy of life.” The costumes may change, but the character and conflict remain the same, even across centuries.
The 1988 show is set in the 1890s and the 1980s. For his North Coast Repertory Theatre production, director Rick Simas has placed his first act in 1900 Vienna and the second in the modern-day Hamptons (though some outfits do look suspiciously ‘80s).
The thematic link between the halves is honesty in amour.
In Act One, “The Little Comedy” (based on a short story by that 19th century relationship cynic, Arthur Schnitzler), a well-to-do playboy and a world-weary courtesan are bored with “the repulsive dreariness of bourgeois life.”
So, each sets aside sartorial finery, dresses down, and goes out to meet the ‘real’ people, those simple folks with no artifice and no need for the trappings of wealth. Josefine becomes a struggling milliner and Alfred a starving poet. They chance upon each other on the street and are smitten (“This is exactly what I need!”). Then, they go away for a week in the country, and they nearly die of cheap digs, bad food and daily tedium. Ultimately, on the same night, they reveal their real, resplendent selves, to predictably imperfect effect. The relationship fraudulence smacks of the online dating scene. But modern concerns are the domain of the second act.
With a dramatic change of wigs and costumes, the same four actors bring us into the 21st century, at least insofar as cellphones and selfies are concerned. In “Summer Share” (an update from Jules Renard’s 1898 play, “Le Pain de ménage”), Sam and Monica have been BFFs for years. And that’s been fine with their spouses, who have grown increasingly distracted: Lenny by his workaholism and Barb by her new twins. Late at night, when Sam and Monica are awake and alone, temptation comes calling, dragging along the threat to everything they hold dear. There’s an ick -factor to these proceedings, especially for married couples. But there’s enough humor to carry the conceit.
And there’s a terrific cast to bring it to life. The main protagonists in both acts are played by amiable, mellow-voiced Lance Arthur Smith and Melissa Wolfklain , who inhabit their disparate characters with charm and charisma. Providing superb support, as servants in the first act and spouses in the second, are the ebullient, dance-happy Jeffrey Scott Parsons and Jill Townsend. Their fantasy of old age, a walkers-to-tap number (excellent choreography by Jill Gorrie ) is the highlight of the production. The L.A.-based Parsons is amazing, my favorite So-Cal tapper, who gets to show off some of his most intricate and flashy moves.
The score (Keith Hermann) is pleasant, if not memorable. There’s some humor, but the book and lyrics (Barry Harman) fall short of extraordinary. The singing is strong and the live onstage accompaniment ( Ron Councell , David Burnett, Stephen Solook ) is estimable. The first act costumes (Alina Bokovikova ) are especially attractive. The lighting, sound, wigs and scenic design serve the show well.
Despite the grimness of the second act depiction of platonic relationships, there’s a frothy feel to the piece that Simas underscores. This is fine summer fun; the fizziest part is the spectacle of metamorphosis: watching the dramatic, vocal and terpsichorean range of these four talented performers.
“Romance/Romance” runs through August 3, at North Coast Repertory Theatre, 987 Lomas Santa Fe Dr., Solana Beach
Performances are Thursday-Saturday at 8pm; Sunday at 2pm and 7pm
Running Time: 2.5 hrs ,
Tickets ($44-$51) are at 858-481-1055 ; www.northcoastrep.org
©2014 PAT LAUNER