The time is probably not too far off when someone will develop a software program, let’s call it DIALOG, allowing the user to construct a “play” by choosing options from various menus. Perhaps such a program already exists, for “Standing By,” the witless romantic comedy with which the York Theater Company is launching its 27th season, resembles nothing so much as the mechanical, by-the-numbers hackwork one would expect from a computer program.
In the opening scene, Ellen Henry (Cynthia Watros) has the misfortune of being seated on an airplane next to Jeffrey Miller (Gregg Edelman), who is unwilling to leave her to her reading of “Satanic Verses” during their flight from Los Angeles to New York. The reward for Jeffrey’s unrelenting annoyances, naturally, is that Ellen sleeps with him right away and feels the urge to cook boeuf a la mode the next morning.
Ellen is a flutist dying of leukemia; Jeffrey is a TV writer dying of TV writing — OK, he’s not dying; we only wish he would, or, barring that, just shut up. Does it go without saying that Jeffrey, who is Jewish, teaches Ellen, who is not, to acknowledge her feelings, and that Ellen pushes Jeffrey to write that play he’s known is inside him ever since graduating from Yale drama school but was too insecure to dig out? Or that they share a love for Rodgers and Hart?
“Standing By” is the work of Norman Barasch, who had a minor Broadway hit in 1958 as the co-author of “Make a Million,” and of a Broadway flop, “Send Me No Flowers,” which became a film vehicle for Rock Hudson, Doris Day and Tony Randall in 1964. While both Edelman and Watros (a last-minute replacement) can be charming, they’re defeated by a script whose every word is as predictable as those of the unseen doctors whose increasingly dire prognoses move the plot, such as it is, along.
Alex Dmitriev’s staging conspires with the script to make 90 minutes seem like as many hours. The production is further saddled with the noisiest and most exhausting-looking set changes since “Cyrano — The Musical.” They’re not the only reasons you’ll wish you’d brought ear plugs.