Friday, September 30, 2011

REVIEW: “ROMANCE, ROMANCE” @ THE WOMEN’S THEATER COMPANY

The first male human being who dragged a female off to his cave probably thought very little about romance; he was more motivated by sexual attraction to his "prey." As a literary term, romance was coined by the French in the Middle Ages to describe tales of heroes and their chivalric exploits. But today, when we talk of romance, we usually mean an "ardent emotional attachment or involvement between two people" or "a strong, sometimes short-lived attachment, fascination or enthusiasm for someone or something," both of which describe the amorous high jinks in the charming musical, Romance, Romance, currently being performed at the Women's Theater Company in Parsippany.

Composer Keith Herrmann and lyricist Barry Harman have fashioned a play in two acts joined by the theme of romance. Indeed, they are set in two different eras and places: the first in fin de siècle Vienna and the second in 21st century America. They are, however, linked by one song performed in both acts.

clip_image002Over and over, we are informed that what we are watching is the "comedy of love/life." In the first act, two bored, rich individuals, Alfred and Peppi (a former actress/ courtesan), complain about being bored with their love lives. Seeking diversion and wondering whether they will ever meet their true loves and be loved for their own sake, both don disguises and go slumming among the "rabble." Alfred passes himself off as a starving artist, Peppi as a poor seamstress. Without the accoutrements of wealth and position, each becomes more "romantic" to the other, and magic happens. Through their exploits, a masked couple dance in intricate patterns, reminding us of the masquerade going on, here and wherever love is concerned.

clip_image002[5]The second act is set at a summer share in the Hamptons where two married couples are vacationing. With little romance in their current unions, Sam and Monica—best friends at work—toy with the idea of "hooking up, despite the love each professes for his/her spouse. Perhaps it's the thrill of "doing something illicit" and discovering that "it's not too late" to find love with a best friend/soul mate. Whatever it is, the two decide that romantic notions provide a spark to life.

Marc G. Dalio and Marcia Sofley portray the principal roles in the production. Both have beautiful, strong voices and a charming manner with the material. Sofley's dimples and sparkling eyes make Peppi a delightful person, despite her deception. Dalio's sonorous baritone and arch mannerisms beautifully convey the boredom felt by Alfred. As Sam and Monica, the two actors tone down their arrogant and supercilious behavior; it would not be seemly (or convincing) in the modern era in which the act occurs In fact, they are caught between an acknowledgement that their platonic relationship is skating on thin ice with regard to their marriages and friendship. Should they cross the line? Do they? You'll have to go and find out.

Ashley Kowzin and Joe D'Angio play the masqueraders in the first act (non-speaking roles) and the spurned spouses called Her and Him in the second act. Their lack of real names makes them nothing more than agreeable foils to Sam and Monica. D'Angio has a nice voice and conveys well a guy to works hard and goes to sleep early. Kowzun's voice, while lovely, is rather weak; I don't think it's so to fit the rather wishy-washy character she portrays.

The first act of Romance, Romance is the more interesting and charming of the two, perhaps because it's written (and played) to take a lighter and more droll approach to love; it is based on The Little Comedy by the master of romantic farce Arthur Schnitzler. The second act, based on Pain de Ménage, by Frenchman Jules Renard, is more serious because should Sam and Monica pursue their need for romance, two innocent bystanders, their spouses, would be very hurt.

Lauran Moran Mills' direction and choreography is playful when it needs to be and serious when necessary. Warren Helms' terrific musical direction really gives the feeling that one is getting a little bit of Broadway in Parsippany. The set by Jonathan Wentz is a series of arches that revolve to fit each venue, and Joan Ludwig's costumes fit each era quite well.

Romance, Romance may be a bit of fluff, but it sure shows the difference with which different times and classes view the term. Whatever it means to you, Romance, Romance is a lovely autumnal diversion for local theatergoers.

Romance, Romance will be performed at The Women’s Theater Company, 1130 Knoll Road, Parsippany, Friday and Saturday evenings and Sunday matinees through October 9. For information and tickets, call 973.316.3033.