MY THING OF LOVE


If I simply tell you to go see My Thing Of Love, will that be endorsement enough
for you? The reason I’m asking is that so much of the pleasure of watching
Alexandra Gersten’s quirkily wonderful and unpredictable comedy (or is it a
drama?) is in not knowing what’s going to happen.  In fact, even a quick
glance at the cast of characters midway through act one spoiled one of the
surprises for me.  So how about if I just say “Go” and end the review here?

All right, I guess I wouldn’t be doing my job if my full length review was shorter
than a capsule, so here goes.  I’ll do my best to tell you about My Thing Of Love
without giving too much away.

Elly and Jack are a 30something married couple with a couple of young kids.  
It’s morning.  Jack is getting dressed for work and Elly recounts to Jack a bit of
advice she’s recently gotten from a transvestite of all people.  “If you want to
know if a man is lying to you, look him deeply in the eyes and if his mouth is
moving, he’s lying.”

It soon becomes clear that Jack has been lying to Elly about something …
something major. “What’s this all about? he asks her. “It’s about
disappointment,” she replies.  “I’m unhappy. I know something.” She tells Jack
what she knows.  Jack just stands there. “You’re not breathing,” she says.  
Jack has put his tie on backwards.

The scene is at once funny and tragic. Like the play itself, it defies
categorization.  Is My Thing Of Love a drama?  Not really. There are far too
many laughs. Is it a comedy?  Not exactly. Not with the stark pain of some of
its scenes?  Is it a dramedy?  No, that’s far too schmaltzy a term for a play  
that’s razor sharp.

One thing My Thing Of Love is is a “fly on the wall” play, one where you truly
feel as if you’re observing real people and their real lives from the safety of
invisibility.  

Gersten has written crackling good dialog for her quartet of characters,
especially for Elly who is, in her own words, unable to “edit my mouth.” In a
scene which starts out romantic, Elly suddenly seethes at Jack, “You’re a killer!  
You just killed a lovely moment we were having!” Gersten’s Jack is a portrait
of a man in crisis.  “It’s every day,” he tells Elly, “and it starts when I shave.”    
Elly’s not doing much better.  “I’ve got a kind of bad cramp in the middle of
my head,” she says.  And what about one of their daughters who’s in the
habit of standing atop her teacher’s desk (“She wants to be tall,” explains Elly)
and shouting, “Wake up you bastard!  The bomb is coming! Wake up!”  Only a
writer of great originality could come up with the line “I love (insert name of
character) so much and I don’t know how you fit in,” spoken by someone to
someone, but you’ll have to see the show to find out who says it and to whom
and why this line is so striking … and funny.

If a director’s accomplishments can be seen in the performances given by his
actors (and I believe that it can), then Darin Anthony (Heads, Burn This) has
done terrific work here—as always. Witness the following:

In a two week period which has already seen two of the most superlative serio-
comic performances of this or any year (Barbara Gruen in A Good Smoke and
Frances Fisher in Sexy Laundry), there is now a third name to add to the list. As
Elly, the sensational Johanna McKay (a young Brenda Vaccaro) gives a
performance of such power and spontaneity, it’s like witnessing spontaneous
combustion on the stage. Acting students should be assigned to watch
McKay and learn from her work what it means to be “in the moment.” 
Nothing seems planned; everything is happening right then and there in a
performance that cannot possibly be exactly the same two nights in a row.

Josh Randall also does excellent work as Jack, keeping the character
sympathetic enough that we feel for him when he is found out and yet
duplicitous enough that we want to shout out to Elly, “Kick him to the curb.”  
Randall is the type of actor who can just as easily play hero as villain, and here
he is both.  He can also play just plain human, as when he declares,
“Sometimes I can feel the hope just pissing out of me,” and you believe him,
and empathize.

Heather Fox (I’m not going to tell you who she plays, and I suggest you not
even look at your program until intermission) is a real find.  With her slender,
angular beauty, she can play sweet and she can play sensual with equal
ease.  In a scene opposite McKay, she is Miss Prissy to McKay’s Ms. Tornado. 
Later, she morphs into a captivating sex kitten, while always remaining her
character’s peculiar self as when, at one point, she blurts out “Emergency!
Emergency! I am being tampered with” because she heard it from a talking
car alarm. 

Completing the foursome is John Schumacher as the elementary school
guidance counselor to end all guidance counselors. Pudgy, goateed, bow-
tied and balding, with a Tony the Tiger pen hanging from around his neck
along with glasses and a name badge, Shumacher’s “Garn” is a trip and a
half, as when he asks Fox, “Has anyone ever told you you look like Edna St.
Vincent Millay?  A dour girl.” As Elly herself says, from the moment Schumacher
walks on stage, it’s a “non-stop side show,” as when he begins singing for no
reason, and when told to stop, shouts out, “WE WERE TRAINED TO SING!”  (By
this I assume he means “we elementary school counselors.”) Kudos to both
actor and playwright.

Dan Jenkins (lighting design) and David B. Marling (sound design) have
worked here as a team, and a brilliant one.  Individually, each does his
accustomed fine work.  Jenkins’ truly artistic lighting is as integral to the
production’s power as are Gersten’s words and the actors’ performances, and
Marling’s sound design is as well, e.g. when a rapid heartbeat accompanies
Jack’s reaction to being found out.  There is one particularly amazing moment
where sound and lighting combine for a brief but powerful instant in which
one character suddenly realizes just who it is he/she is speaking to.

Tom Buderwitz has come up with two wonderful, and very different, set
designs for the production.  Act 1’s messy living room has that lived in look,
with crayons, stuffed animals, a dolly, and a tub of Clay Babies on the coffee
table. The audience returns from intermission to a gorgeous set change; the
living room has become a comfortable suburban bedroom, complete with full
sized double bed.  Both sets feature a semi-see-through wall to the bathroom,
used effectively in both acts. Kudos also to Sherry Linnell for her excellent
costumes.

Amazingly, I do believe I’ve written a review which doesn’t give away too
many of A Thing Of Love’s unexpected twists and turns! Hopefully, it’s also one
which has conveyed the many charms of Gersten’s creation without spoiling
its many surprises.

Do try to see My Thing Of Love, not just because it’s a wonderful play and
production, but also to support Martin and Katherine Bedoian’s marvelous
Syzygy Theatre Group which, instead of opting for the “99-seat plan” actually
pays its actors and stage managers for rehearsals and performances.  Syzygy
does only two or three productions a year, but quality most definitely trumps
quantity here. After Tender and Goblin Market, My Thing Of Love makes it
three winners in a row!

GTC Burbank, 1111-B WestOlive Ave., Burbank.
www.syzygytheatre.org

–Steven Stanley
March 8, 2008

Comments are closed.