Lovers And Other Strangers is perhaps best known as the Oscar-winning 1970 movie which starred Gig Young (remember him?), Bea (then Beatrice) Arthur and Cloris Leachman (pre Maud and MTM), and featuring an unknown actress named Diane Keaton in her very first film role.  (A dollar to whoever can remember in what category Lovers And Other Strangers won its Oscar.)

(Hint: The Carpenters introduced this perennial wedding favorite in the movie.)

Now you can enjoy Lovers And Other Strangers live, and take a fun trip back to the year 1968 with 68 Cent Crew’s all around bitchin’, far out, hip, boss, cool and groovy revival of Renee Taylor and Joseph Bologna’s hilarious quintet of one-acts.

From first glimpse, Danny Cistone’s retro-groovetastic scenic design immediately transports the audience back to the days of Woodstock, miniskirts, Helen Gurley Brown, and Tang, the beverage preferred by 9 out of 10 U.S. astronauts.

“Brenda And Jerry,” the first one-act, features Mercedes Manning as a gold-lamé mini-dressed beauty and hunky Jeremy Luke as a man she’s just met, who’s invited her up to his apartment … to check and see if he left the gas on in the oven. Likely story, you may be thinking, and so indeed is Brenda, who’s read Sex And The Single Girl, Sex And The Single Man, The Second Sex, The Prophet, The Art Of Loving, and the Kamasutra of Vatsyana, and is therefore an expert on just about everything relating to man and woman, at least on the printed page.  Jerry’s knowledge is a bit more practical.  As soon as Brenda exits to use the bathroom, he quickly opens the stereo set, which turns into a romantic fireplace, then pops over to the painting over the sofa, behind which he reveals a pair of seductively glowing lava lamps.

“Am I just a passing train in the night you’re having a transitory frolic with,” asks Brenda, “or are you more attracted to my inner being and this might very well be the beginnings of a meaningful relationship on a permanent basis?”

After a moment’s thought, Jerry replies, “The second one,” and moves in for a kiss which Brenda …

But no, to reveal more would be spoiling the fun.

On to “Hal And Cathy,” as stage left Cistone’s nifty set revolves to reveal a bathroom into which pert and pretty Cathy (Chauntal Lewis) rushes and promptly locks the door. Outside, lumpy Hal (James Jeager) pleads with her, “Cathy, I promise you, as soon as Peter goes to prep school, I’ll ask Bernice for the divorce.”  “You promised that last year and the year before,” pouts Cathy. “This time it’s different,” insists Hal. Besides, why should Cathy complain?  As Hal tells her, “Bernice has me, but you have my love.” (Say what?)

“Johnny and Wilma” concludes Act 1 with a bang as the set undergoes yet another transformation, the sofa pulled out to become a double bed and two end tables miraculously appearing from the wall on either side.  Wilma (Katie Zeiner) gets into bed with hubby Johnny (Joe Dallo) and demands, not once but twice, “Are you going to make love to me, or not?”, to which sleepy Johnny replies, “Huh? Wah? Come on, I was just falling asleep.” Wilma’s not about to let up, though.  After all, Johnny owes her two already, for “last Friday and the Wednesday before when Ron stayed over and you didn’t want to make noise. If we don’t catch up tonight,” continues Wilma, “there’s going to be a lot of pressure on us to catch up.” 

Soon Wilma is accusing Johnny of sounding like her father, Johnny is accusing Wilma of “trying to make my virility look impotent,” and married folk in the audience are laughing hysterically (along with everybody else), Wilma and Johnny’s bedtime conversation doubtless ringing bell after bell and sending couples out to intermission with much to talk about amongst themselves.

“Mike And Susan” are up next with Mike (cute Michael Blum) just “passing by” his fiancée’s apartment at 4:00 a.m. “I thought I’d say ‘Hello,’” he tells Susan (a deliciously mute Kate McManus), but his real reason is to inform her (in a two page monolog) that “I’m not getting married.”  After all, “I said, ‘Susan, if I ask you to marry me, can I take it back if I want to?’”  And then to plead “Please don’t make me marry you,” and to complain, “Stop looking at me like that,” and to kvetch, “Give me a break. Take the pressure off me,” and to be direct, “You’re just not my dream girl,” and to explain, “I don’t think I could ever be faithful,” and reassure, “You’ll get over me,” and to end it once and for all, “I’m sorry. That’s it.”  But is it really?

Bologna and Taylor have saved the best for last in the evening’s only four-person playlet, “Bea, Frank, Richie, and Joan.” Longtime married couple Bea (Laura Julian) and Frank (director John Medici standing in for Bobby Costanzo), are eating dinner in their kitchen (which has appeared miraculously during intermission) with grown son Richie (Tye Alexander), who’s come over to announce his plans to break up with wife Joan (Heidi Fielek).

Bea: How can you break up? You’re a married couple.
Richie:  We’re just not compatible.
Frank: Did you hear that, Beatrice?  They’re not compatible.
Bea: I heard, Frank, but I’m not listening.

When Richie complains that he and Joan aren’t happy together, Frank wonders “Who’s happy? and Bea wonders “Who’s happy?”

Frank: You think your mother and I are happy?
Richie:  You mean you and Dad aren’t happy?
Bea and Frank: No.
Richie:  Why did you stay together?
Frank: We’re content.
Bea: We’re content.

If excerpts like the above don’t convince you to see Lovers And Other Strangers, then stay at home, but you’ll be missing out on one of the funniest shows in town, and a chance to see about as fine a cast of comic actors as you’ll ever see on one stage.  I could wax on about each and everyone in the cast, but I’m already at over 1000 words and I still haven’t talked about the Medici’s direction, or the design team, so to all 12 actors, you are fabulous and funny and sexy and laugh out loud hilarious. (Plus you’ve got the New York accent and attitude down pat.)

Medici worked in the original Broadway production of Lovers And Other Strangers, and besides being totally on top of Frank in the first of only two scheduled appearances, knows the material backwards and forwards and has elicited performances from his cast that are gems of comic timing.

Besides designing the show’s fab set (walls cut to resemble the New York skyline), Cistone did the excellent lighting design. Bruce Barker’s sound design features a great collection of ’68 hits, and Melissa Broussard’s wardrobe is mostly spot-on 60s, especially Brenda and Cathy’s mini-dresses.

So travel back in time to the beginning of the sexual revolution when men’s and women’s roles were in the midst of flux and enjoy five very funny glimpses back at life in 1968 with a bunch of lovers (and other strangers). 

Theatre 68, 5419 Sunset Blvd, Suite D, Hollywood. 

–Steven Stanley
August 31, 2008

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