There’s a delicious little scene in John Kolvenbach’s whimsical comedy “Love Song” wherein a pair of affluent, older, workaholic, married urbanites decide to play communal hooky from their stressed-out daily lives: lounge in bed, smoke imaginary cigarettes, that kind of silly stuff. In the hands of Steppenwolf vets Molly Regan and Francis Guinan, under the playful direction of the perennially kidlike Austin Pendleton, the show takes on such an air of joyous fantasy that you’d have sworn you could see half the typically well-heeled Stepp audience making immediate plans to blow off Monday at the office and hit the lakefront instead.
This show is a good match for spring in Chicago — a time of year when theatergoers are more than ready to banish all that Steppenwolf angst with the howling winds and finally enjoy a little warmth and optimism for their theatrical dollar. This insular, domestically focused play generally plows familiar territory, and it’s not going to raise any firestorms. But Kolvenbach’s kind-and-gentle four-hander is likely to be a Chi audience pleaser.
Elsewhere, you could see the piece having plenty of viability as an easy-to-produce, pleasant-to-digest celeb vehicle with more than enough satirical and literary smarts for a hip, legit-loving crowd.
Here’s the setup. Harry (Guinan) and Joan (Regan) — who sound like Hillary Clinton-hating reps of the American Medical Assn. — are married but too stressed to do much to foster it. Joan has a little brother, Beane (Ian Barford), with a rather reclusive personality.
One day in his tiny, secluded apartment, Beane encounters a wacky, passionate young woman named Molly (Mariann Mayberry), who seems to be an intruder. But she’s not an intruder in the physical sense. Rather, the vagabond actually is stealing the lonely guy’s heart.
Beane’s renewed sensory system in turn affects his very different big sis, who then rediscovers her inner child with the help of her more-than-ready hubby. And so it goes.
There’s a sting in the narrative tale — spoiler alert — because Molly turns out to be merely a figment of Beane’s imagination. But Kolvenbach’s point — expressed with linguistic sophistication rather than mere sentimentality — is that it doesn’t matter whether love is real or fantasy, as long as it’s fully experienced.
Pendleton’s premiering production has the right, romping sense of uptight people learning to be silly. Granted, the two couples aren’t perfectly matched in style. Regan and Guinan have a big collective foot in Coward-like romantic comedy, while Barford and (especially) Mayberry are in a more hyper-intense world that could and should be dialed back to better match the generous, more lightly woven tone of the writing.
But while vulnerability could be heightened all around, the perfs are honest affairs with an ability to touch the heart.