Review: ‘Unbeatable Harold’

A capable ensemble underscores every absurd nuance in "Unbeatable Harold," a promising, if incomplete, two-hander that spotlights the inept but comically endearing exploits of socially challenged Harold (Maury Sterling) as he attempts to court less-than-enthusiastic Wanda (Austin Highsmith).

A capable ensemble underscores every absurd nuance in “Unbeatable Harold,” a promising, if incomplete, two-hander that spotlights the inept but comically endearing exploits of socially challenged Harold (Maury Sterling) as he attempts to court less-than-enthusiastic Wanda (Austin Highsmith). There are no thematic surprises in Harold’s straight-ahead downward spiral, but helmer John Ruskin and a capable ensemble underscore every absurd nuance of this quixotic tale of romantic woe.

Performed to the self-deluding hilt by Sterling (alternating with Bradley Stryker), Harold is a perfectly wrought icon of a lifelong loser. Having pulled himself up by his imagined bootstraps to become assistant manager of a hick-town steakhouse, he proudly proclaims he has “more personality in my little finger than most of those other guys have in their little fingers.”

As he poses and struts about his miniscule abode, Harold is overflowing with confidence that he will successfully pop the conjugal question. Naturally, he is oblivious to Wanda’s never-ceasing visage of disbelief and dread as he goes through his absurd machinations, including a sock puppet show that is as comical as it is pathetic.

Scripter Randy Noojin does not offer Wanda any emotional or intellectual leeway other than to maneuver uncomfortably around Harold’s relationship thrusts while searching for a proper exit line. Highsmith (alternating with Sarah Maine) exudes the proper amalgam of regret, sympathy, disbelief and anger that Wanda, who is only one rung more socially advanced than Harold, has been put in this situation from which she cannot gracefully retreat.

The seedy apartment setting of Ryan Wilson (including a few hilariously telling decorative pieces) impressively underscores Harold’s self-involved mindset. The character-perfect costumes of Ruskin and Kathi O’Donohue’s understated lighting further complement the proceedings.

At 50 minutes, “Unbeatable Harold” has the potential to be a successful set-up first act of a rewarding complete work that amplifies the life and times of this sadsack protagonist. Noojin has certainly created a memorable character who uses the everyday stuff of life to invent his own abstruse concept of reality.

Unbeatable Harold

Ruskin Group Theater; 65 seats; $15 top

Production

A Ruskin Group Theater Company presentation of a play in one act by Randy Noojin. Directed by John Ruskin.

Creative

Sets, Ryan Wilson; costumes, Ruskin; lighting, Kathi O'Donohue; stage managers, Drew Baldwin and Gavin Alexander. Opened, reviewed, June 13, 2008. Runs through Aug. 3. Running time: 50 MIN.

Cast

Harold - Maury Sterling Wanda - Austin Highsmith

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