KPBS AIRDATE: FEBRUARY 2, 2001
Even if they’re buried down deep, we all harbor some romantic notions. Love at first sight. Someone sweeping us off our feet. A deliciously titillating affair. “Romance Romance,” an evening of one-act musicals, takes two widely disparate perspectives, and concludes that romantic notions are best left unfulfilled.
Act one, based on a play by that love-cynic, Arthur Schnitzler, is called “The Little Comedy.” Set in 1890’s Vienna, it concerns sexual ennui in two sophisticated, upper-crusters: a man tired of women wanting him for his money, and a woman tired of wanting men for their money. So each decides to go slumming for adventure. They ‘dress down’ to appear more interesting than they actually are; he poses as a starving poet, she as an impoverished milliner. They meet in the park and fall madly in love — with the fantasy persona, of course. The ultimate query is: Can love survive the truth?
In Act 2, based on Jules Renard’s “Pain de Ménage,” we’re in 1990s New York, at a rental house in the Hamptons. “Summer Share” concerns best friends Monica and Sam, who, while their respective spouses sleep peacefully in other rooms, consider venturing over the line of platonic friendship. This little trifle asks the musical question: Are sexual fantasies better than reality?
The Tony Award-winning 1988 musical by Barry Harman and Keith Herrmann boasts several creative conceits. First, it’s got that different times/different places construction, which includes a vast difference in linguistic, musical and sartorial styles. Then, it’s written to be played by just four actors, alternating roles in the two acts. Third, there are these phantoms in both acts, ghosts of self or spouse, speakers of insights unspoken, white-clad consciences that remind of truth, fidelity and responsibility. Oh, and in the first act, there’s also the letters. Each of the lovers offers soul-baring exposition in a series of letters to an unseen comrade and confidant. Whew! That’s a tall order, structurally, musically and theatrically. And it doesn’t always work.
At Moonlight Amphitheatre, Act 1 is sheer delight. Eric Anderson does some of his best work to date as the aristocratic Alfred. Bets Malone’s singing and acting are irresistible throughout. But in the second act, it’s hard to switch gears and remain engaged. The situation seems contrived, and we start seeing the seams in the play as well as the production. The ‘seconds’ are better in the second act, with Brittany Paige and Ben Perry getting to show some of their performing stuff. But the music is undistinguished, even if the lyrics are often quite clever. And though Kathy Brombacher’s direction is charming and alluring, there’s too little dancing to warrant two choreographers, the follow-spot lighting is often intrusive, and the rotating set, like the show itself, is pleasant but not heart-warming or heart-stopping. Perhaps the whole venture was just another starry-eyed romantic notion.
©2001 Patté Productions Inc.