A heart day’s night

Posted on 22 Jan 2009 at 9:50am
By Arnold Wayne Jones Staff Writer

Before Valentine’s Day, a trio of plays tackles the aspects of love


PERFECT, DON’T CHANGE: Theatre Too’s cast for ‘I Love You, You’re Perfect’ turns cliches into charm.

It’s not even February, and already North Texas stages are teeming with Valentine-themed plays. That is not to say that all are cozy, happy romances that end well — which may make them all the more realistic for those looking ahead to dinner alone on Feb. 14. But love, even unrequited, is in the air.

The vignettes that make up "I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change" at Theatre Too (revived for the gazillionth time since opening way back in 2000) mostly traffic in shopworn clichés about straight couples: Men hate commitment and never ask for directions; women’s biological clocks tick louder when they act as bridesmaids again. But if this musical revue lacks new ideas about relationships, this production does two things right: it recites its clichés with appealing songs (some intentionally call to mind Leiber & Stoller, others Lerner & Loewe), and it uses the right cast to do it.

A show like this rises and falls on the cast, and the quartet of likeable actors here — Bradley Campbell and Gary Floyd are the men, Lindsey Holloway and Lisa J. Miller the women — turn in delightfully airy performances in the grand tradition of vaudeville, stepping in and out of a host of characters while making each quirky and distinct.

It’s also largely fun. There are really only two somber ballads (one in Act 1, another in Act 2), and the second is performed by the peerless Floyd, whose specialty is heartfelt lyrical interpretation. The cast works well together, and their energy is infectious. It’s a charmer if you haven’t seen the show before… and more importantly, even if you have.

"Almost, Maine" is also back for a second time, this time at Theatre Arlington instead of WaterTower Theatre, where it debuted locally a year ago. That production failed to impress me, and I think I know why: Most of the broken-heartedness was experienced by actors under 30. It’s difficult to get het up about romantic disappointments for young, beautiful people with their lives in front of them.

In Arlington, most of the actors (B.J. Cleveland, Ted Wold, Marisa Diotalevi) are more mature, so their sadness, and their desperation, resonates more. Certainly it does in the opening scene, with Cleveland as a repressed Mainer engaged in a tentative affair with his plain girlfriend (Becca Shivers, perfectly giddy, cherubic and round as a peach).

Like "Love/Change," "Maine" is comprised of brief skits held together by a theme (and here, a locale), but told with a disarming abstraction (two men literally "fall" in love; a crumbling couple wait for the other shoe to drop… and it finally does). Diotalevi is a genius at making the outrageous seem credible, but everyone’s in top form here. The production is as warm and comfortable as flannel pajamas.

"Violet," now at WaterTower, presents a less hopeful vision of love. In 1964, a young woman (Stacey Oristano) scarred on her face as a child, sets out on a bus to meet a televangelist who can cure her. On the way she meets two G.I.s — one white (Luke Longacre), one black (Markus Lloyd) — and develops feelings for both.

This sung-through musical is low on hummable tunes — composer Jeanine Tesori hasn’t written real bluegrass and country, but a sophisticate’s rough idea of what it should sound like — but the drama is so well-acted by Oristano, Lloyd and Sonny Franks, it doesn’t matter much. Like Dorothy in Oz, "Violet" is about discovering what’s been inside you all along, and and that you don’t need someone else to make you whole.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition January 23, 2009

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