Craig Lucas’ tragicomic paean to romantic love in the ’80s is revived in this pedestrian, plodding production that misses not only most of the humor but also much of the deeper texture of the play.
When star-crossed lovers Peter (Robert Zimmerman) and Rita (Leslie La Page) meet at a party and are instantly smitten, they enter quickly into the dance of romance, played out with the hip-modern irony of contemporary courtship.
Both are swept off their feet and in a few weeks Rita is introducing her new fiance to her parents (Terrence Beasor, Muriel Minot) in Glendale. Before long, Rita and Peter are married in a typically disjointed family affair that is marred only by the appearance of a disoriented old man (Jack Donner), who insists on planting a big kiss on the bride.
In an instant, the personalities (and souls) of Rita and the old man switch bodies, and the complications of this love story really begin, as Peter tracks down the real Rita, who is held captive in the old man’s body, effects thereturn of her soul to her real body, and wins back his lost love.
While the play has the high-concept plotline of a Hollywood comedy, Lucas imbued the piece with a tender, ironic lightness that is a lilting counterpoint to tragic love. When the play was produced in the ’80s, the story had as its tragic subtext the rising scourge of AIDS, which turned beautiful, vibrant young men and women into haggard ghostwalkers. Over and over again, young lovers were torn apart by disease and early death, and it was this loss, in part, that Lucas eulogized in his play.
Neither the ironic humor nor the tragic subtext survive this banal revival of the play. Actors Zimmerman and La Page never find the chemistry or the panache to carry the subtle tone of the piece. Donner does some good work as the old man , but it is too little, too late, to rescue the piece.
In addition to the problems of tone, director Anneliza Scott has loaded this small-theater production with cumbersome effects and set changes that undercut the intention of the script. Scott also employs numerous non-speaking actors onstage who are used as set dressing but who serve no purpose other than to clutter the stage.
Production values also are weak, with lighting seemingly random and several bungled sound cues. While the use of video provides some much-needed levity, it brings little focus to the piece. The most glaring oversight, however, is the missed opportunities for comedy throughout the evening. Without a sense of fun, this play lands with a thud.