Playwright Dale Griffiths Stamos follows her 2011 collection of family-based one-acts, Thicker Than Water, with an even bigger and better bunch for 2012, an octet of love-themed playlets aptly titled Love Struck.

TV legend Barbara Bain returns from Thicker Than Water, as do three of her costars along with director-star Maggie Grant, who has once again assembled an oh-so talented ensemble including headliners Peter Van Norden and Nick Ullett.

Spanning the comedic, the dramatic, and the in-between, Love Struck’s eight pieces range from the just-okay evening’s opener to a couple that are truly memorable.

Best of the eight are a pair of monologs, billed as a single one-act but in actuality two quite different “Confessions,” both in setting and tone.

 “Tracy’s Sin” stars the extraordinary Tara Windley as a popular teen (think Molly Ringwald in The Breakfast Club) who learns that dropping a boy who could talk about “quarks, and black holes, and how one twin could space-travel near the speed of light” in favor of “the absolute cutest, hunkiest, every-girl-in-the-senior-class would-die-over guy” can have life-altering consequences.

 Later, Eric Charles Jorgenson does his finest work yet as a gay man who, despite having found the love of his life, still fears eternal damnation, making “Jeremy’s Fear” about as powerful—and topical—a piece on Christianity and homosexuality you’re likely to see any time soon. (Oh, and Jorgenson solos expertly on the violin as well.)

 Bain’s two playlets are also quite terrific. In the first, “Identity,” the star of TV’s Mission Impossible and Space: 1999 is Alzheimer’s patient Roxanne Carrington-Hunt, whose reaction to the news of the death of a former love has unexpected repercussions on her husband Paul (Van Norden) and adult son Lawrence (Dave Roberts).

 In “Matchmade,” the evening’s finale, Bain is entrepreneur Meredith Reed of Love After 70, a matchmaking service for seniors, and Ullett is Charlie Baxter, who seeks Meredith’s help in finding not quite the mate the matchmaker might have had in mind for him. Bain is quite marvelous in both—and versatile to boot, and there’s not a weak link among her three splendid costars.

“Amanda Split” reunites Molly Leland and Julianna Robinson, who in Thicker Than Water played a wife confronting her husband’s unsuspecting girlfriend. This time they are Amanda and Mandy, two sides of the same woman, one sensible, one daring, and “both” on a date with hunky Ethan (Ryan Cross). One of Stamos’s cleverest pieces, “Amanda Split” has Leland and Robinson alternating who’s in charge and Cross interacting with both prude and temptress to considerable comedic effect. Leland and Robinson once again prove themselves expert comediennes and soap-star-handsome-(and-built-like-a-brick-shithouse) Cross makes for a first-rate comic foil.

 Grant’s two playlets aren’t quite as strong as those described above, but both have numerous entertaining moments. In “The Session,” Grant and Bob Ebinger are married couple Angela and Harvey, attending their first couples therapy with wild-and-crazy Dr. Max Rightman (Samm Hill). Grant and Ebinger make for amusingly mismatched mates, and the fabulous Hill plays the would-be shrink with quirky abandon. In “Dirty Little Secret,” Grant switches from hippy-dippy Angela to starched-shirted Anna, court-appointed therapist to domestic abuser Nick (an excellent Matthew Brenher), who may just have met his match in his power-suited shrink.

Least successful of the bunch, and therefore not quite the best choice to open the evening’s festivities, “The One” has 30ish Cody (Kirk Enochs) paying a surprise visit on his high school girlfriend Laura (Natasha Charles Parker) with a surprising request. “The One” suffers from a lack of credibility, and though Parker and Enochs do their best to keep things screwball-bouncy, audience reaction remained muted on Opening Night.  (UPDATE: “Amanda Split” now opens the show, with “The One” moved to the middle of Act Two.)

Still, with so much first-rate writing and acting, and Grant assuredly in the director’s chair, the pluses far outweigh the minuses in Love Struck.

Lila Cannon’s set design consists of furniture moved on and offstage between scenes to sound designer Cannon’s well-chosen playlist of love-based hit tunes. Scene changes take place relatively swiftly, though Cannon might have thought of more ways to minimize the necessity of lugging sofas and tables on and off each and every time. Making this year’s design head-and-shoulders above last year’s is Adam Hunter’s stunning artwork backing up each scene. Cannon wears the lighting designer’s cap as well, and quite effectively. Uncredited costumes are mostly quite fine choices, with Mandy/Amanda’s complementary outfits a particularly well-designed pair. Only Parker’s neon green dress in “The One” clashes unattractively with the production’s color palette, one with which all other costumes are in sync.

Love Struck is produced by Three Roses Players and Venice Sky Productions. Adryan Russ is associate producer. Alex Stamos is crew and Maurie Gonzalez stage manager.

As StageSceneLA readers may have noticed, this reviewer rarely attends one-acts, preferring full-length plays in the same way I invariably opt for novels over short stories. Still, there are times when I make exceptions, and in the case of Love Struck, I’m quite glad I did.

Note: Robert Miano plays Charlie and David Wells plays Dr. Max on May 18-20.  A prerecorded James Horan is the Radio Voice in “Identity.”

Beverly Hills Playhouse, 254 S. Robertson Blvd., Beverly Hills.

–Steven Stanley
May 11, 2012

Comments are closed.