The Delicious Indelicacies of Looking for Love
By Tom Wachunas
When Frank Sinatra cheerily observed in a 1955 chart-topping hit, “Love and Marriage go together like a horse and carriage,” marriage as a societal institution was regarded, if still only in theory, as fairly unsullied and holy ground. What the song didn’t tell us was that carriages will lose wheels just as horses will go lame. Old Blue Eyes himself could well attest to that. And were they alive today, such 1950s television champions of “normal” family life as Ozzie and Harriet, the Cleavers and the Father who knew best would no doubt feel like strangers in a strange land.
Long before 1996, when Joe DiPietro (lyrics) and Jimmy Roberts (music) premiered their off-Broadway musical comedy I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change, societal ideas about the nuclear family and the practices that sustained it had already undergone drastic changes, for better or worse. ‘Be fruitful and multiply’ had morphed into the more complicated pluralism of ‘be useful and multitask.’ The generally clever writing – often bordering on pure kitsch - is alternately sardonic and sobering in its examination of the mating game/marriage zeitgeist. While gender stereotypes are skewered with humorous abandon, there’s not much to digest in terms of life-changing profundity. It’s simply not that kind of show.
It is nonetheless a remarkably intimate (aided in this case by the cozy, rural lodge feel of the performance facility) and entertaining collection of vignettes and songs about relationships between men and women. They traverse a broad social arc from lust, dating disasters and successes, real love and marriage in Act I, to break-ups, babies, parenting frustrations, and aging in Act II.
This delightful musical revue, with fleet-fingered piano accompaniment by Elaine Wedges, was produced by Kevin and Marilyn Wells (Kevin also directed). They form half of the four-member cast which also includes Andrew Donaldson and Alison Matis. It’s an astutely directed ensemble of actors/singers who are equally adept at balancing high-flying comedy - performed with cabaret-style verve – and genuine, palpable emotionality.
As collections of songs go, there aren’t any especially “classic” soaring anthems of love or loss here so much as ephemeral melodic glimpses of moods and situations. That said, a few are truly inspired gems of tenderness. Alison Matis mesmerizes with the sweet, introspective “I Will Be Loved Tonight.” Equally captivating is Andrew Donaldson as he assesses his decades-long marriage in “Shouldn’t I Be Less In Love With You?”
Among the many high points of hilarity is the “Tear Jerk” scene, wherein Kevin and Marilyn Wells are munching popcorn and watching a chick-flick, much to Kevin’s dismay. Despite his macho resistance to being drawn into her teary attention to the syrupy drama, his focus is progressively rerouted and he breaks down into unabashed weeping.
The proceedings come full circle in the closing scene, wherein Kevin and Marilyn appear again, this time as a widower and widow meeting by chance in a funeral parlor. As they gently chat about their respective pasts, and wryly compare notes on getting old, they agree that their lives are now a moment-to-moment proposition. Could a date be forthcoming?
Sometimes falling in love is an irrational act, and marriage might seem a seriously silly attempt to reconcile opposing forces. Then again, it might be infectiously healing. And as the funeral parlor song says, I can live with that.
I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change, at Fieldcrest Estate, 1346 Easthill (55th Street) S.E., North Canton. Shows May 17, May 23 and 24 at 8 p.m. Tickets $12.50 adults, $10.50 students. Available at www.eventbrite.com , 330-933-0216, and the door. Recommended for ages 15 and older.
PHOTOS by Tracy Brewer: Top- Andrew Donaldson and Alison Matis; Bottom – Marilyn Wells, Kevin Wells