Saturday, Jan. 17, 2009

I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change Review

By Russ Bickerstaff
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The journey out to Elm Grove was not entirely pleasant. The Number 10 bus was prompt in getting me within walking distance of the Sunset Playhouse, but with sub-zero temperatures, a walk from the bus stop that was often enjoyable was slightly agonizing. The parking lot was packed for opening night of the new musical. A woman named Lucky, the Sunset’s Slightly Crunchy box office greeted me with the warmth of the lobby.

“Business or pleasure?” she asked.

“Uh, both.” I said. She handed me my tickets and I went inside, immediately spotting Jonathan West, there on his first opening night in the capacity of Sunset Playhouse General Manager.

West said hello and we’d made small talk. He asked me if I was writing for the Alamo Basement/Insurgent Theatre BERZERK!!! show. I hadn’t been invited and told him as much, not that I would’ve been able to attend the show anyway, what with it being staged next week. My wife has a business trip to Chicago next weekend and is requesting that I come along . . . I told Jonathan West that I would have to console myself in missing another BERZERK!!! by going to performance of Too Much Light Makes The Baby Go Blind in Chicago. West perked-up at this. He didn’t say much about it. He simply insisted that I go. I get the impression that he liked it. So I’ll be missing brief works by people I know and respect like Tracy Doyle Ben Turk, Mike Q. Hanlon, Tim Chrapko, Jeff Grygny and a few others, but I’ll get to see a show recommended by Jonathan West. Not a bad trade-off . . . seeing the lights in the lobby flash, I nodded good-bye to Mr. West and went in to se the show


I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change

The first thing you notice when you go to see a show at the Sunset is the set. The theatre in Elm Grove is home to one of the best local scenic designers. The usually brilliant J. Michael Desper set design was as solid as ever, but a bit more unusual than . . . usual. The musical in question is a series of vignettes about love, relationships, dating, marriage and such. This leaves the door open for a vague, thematic set. Desper went for something with a strange late ‘60’s, early ‘70’s feel. Looking like a cross between the set of The Dating Game and the set from the Harlan Ellison episode of the original Star Trek series, Adorned with retro-style ornamentation, the set features a pair of eye-like ovals high above the stage that feature photos and bits of txt over the course of the show. Some of the over the stage visuals are quite witty. As distracting as the set can be at times, it’s a very solid design featuring brilliantly smooth moving pieces, which allow for impressively graceful set changes.

The show itself is kind of fun. Comic sketches mix with moments of musical theatre. After a brief, slightly cosmic introduction, the show jumps into the rhythm of the show’s central theme as all four cast members musically getting read for a date. The show rapidly cycles through various observations on dating, finally arriving at marriage for one last musical number before intermission. After light refreshments in the lobby, the show returns with a very brief honeymoon, parenthood, family life, the aftermath of divorce, widow and widowerhood and finally, the title song.

Themes of love, commitment and relationships have been explored to death in every kind of storytelling imaginable, so it’s a bit impressive to see a show that features relatively fresh angles on the themes. Not all of it feels entirely contemporary. With the technology of human connection having changed as much as it has since the musical was first staged a few years ago, some of the concerns here seem a bit dated. A woman records a video dating segment at one point. The agony of waiting by a phone for someone to call expressed in the song He Called Me seems particularly odd, but it IS interesting to remember a time when people weren’t quite as universally accessible. The old technology is only a slight distraction from the central themes, but it’d be interesting to see the same writing team tackle things like instant messaging, online relationships and the fantastic ambiguity of text messaging.

As usually happen in shows like this, he more interesting bits seem a bit short. The full potential in a non-musical bit about having a lawyer present during sex seems particularly lacking, but the rather quick rhythm of things keeps the show from ever lingering on less than original moments or too long. Above all, the variety of scenes, characters and situations plays the biggest role in keeping the musical fun.

The cast (consisting of two men, two women, a female pianist and a male violinist) does a pretty good job of keeping up with the somewhat frenetic pace of things, each having fleeting moments of truly captivating performance. Intermittent Sunset veteran Kyle Breitzman’s best performance comes at the end as an old widower reaching out to an old widow at a funeral in a particularly touching performance. Sarah Laak Hughes has a somewhat courageously vulnerable monologue as a divorced woman recording a video dating segment. Recent New York transplant Bill Rolon is charmingly awkward in timid, post-tennis conversation with Sarah. Cindy Zauner is most charming as a busy woman negotiating her way through much of a relationship with Kyle on the very first date. While the cast as a hole was in relatively good form, there were a number of stiff moments opening night that should work themselves out pretty earl on in the run of the show.

Sunset Playhouse’s production of I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change runs through February 1st.

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