Barbara Haas on RedHouse Lovesong

Eagle Newspapers 05/16/08More articles

A romantic comedy by John Kolvenbach at Redhouse through May 18:

By Barbara Haas

“Lovesong,” a sassy little comedy with a sweet message, is now making its East coast debut at Redhouse. It’s easy to see why Laura Austin, a fine actress who currently makes up half of the Redhouse’s staff of two, chose this highly original play to get their theater program back on track.
Playwright John Kolvenbach quickly tells us all we need to know about his characters. Joan, played with great fluidity and naturalness by Austin, is an uptight professional woman who complains that she’s besieged by “dipshit imbeciles.” Her husband Harry (Joseph Whelan) is incredulous that she fired her assistant over a bad stapling job. Harry worries that Joan’s brother Beanne (Zach Chase) is strange -- something we already know, because in the silent opening scene, we saw the apartment ceiling of John Czajkowki’s clever set closing in its fearfully cowering tenant.
In one of the many comic scenes, Harry doesn’t get very far when he tries to confirm his hunch about his brother-in-law by giving him a multiple-choice psychological test. One of the choices for the first question (A friend gives you a birthday present in a wrapped-up box. What might be in the box?”) is a baby. A baby? Inside a box? Any normal test-taker would know to reject that absurd suggestion, but Beane is disturbed by the idea. How would it breathe? Director Peter Moller paces the scene well, so in the end it’s Harry who ends up frothing with frustration.
Beane is unquestionably strange, but his reactions are often the more sensible. Joan begins to worry when her withdrawn brother suddenly begins to talk his head off. He’s fallen in love! He opens up to people, even to the waiter (Phil Brady) at lunch where Joan tries to draw him out. Certainly it’s strange to ask about the waiter’ s personal life (“Do you play an instrument?”) but it’s Joan who acts crazy when she throws a sissyfit and orders the waiter to get out.
Beane has fallen wildly, touchingly in love with a woman, Molly (Amy Newhall), who, it soon becomes clear, is an imaginary extension of himself. In a whirling, ecstatic scene that doesn’t quite come off because the words aren’t always intelligible, Molly completes each of Beane’s free-ranging manic thoughts. He has experienced oneness with another being, and the experience opens him up -- even if she isn’t real.
In a more mundane way, Joan and Harry have their own awakening. When Harry acknowledges that he’s turned on by just the sight of a melon, which he associates with Joan, she is aroused too. Like a couple of teenagers playing hooky, they call in sick to the office, and fantasize all the forbidden acts -- smoking cigarettes, drinking alcohol, shooting up drugs and making wild love on the floor. Playing with abandoned gusto, Whelan and Austin interact beautifully.
It’s heartening to see that Austin has been scanning the horizon for interesting theater to bring to Redhouse. She and Managing Director Natalia Mount have announced a new season of four plays starting in September. Syracuse’s off-Broadway is still going strong.

Rating: 2.4/5 (12 votes cast)

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