“This is the story of two people who were made for each other, true soul mates, a man and a woman destined to fall in love with each other, if only they could ever meet” … is how an unseen narrator opens Jenelle Riley’s contemporary storybook romcom A Kind Of Love Story, now entertaining audiences at Sacred Fools Theatre.

30ish Allison O’Neill (Carrie Wiita) is, as our narrator goes on to inform us, “a dying breed these days, not a hopeless romantic, but a hopeful one,” this despite a string of romantic disappointments dating back to the age of seven when Ally paid a boy a dollar for her first kiss only to be rewarded with not just permission to peck him on the cheek but an accompanying shove to the floor, the first of countless many Ally will be getting in the years leading up to today.

Waiting for Ally somewhere across the city is 31-year-old Mark Collins (Michael Lanahan), who despite having made it his life’s mission to be more interesting than his generic name, has somehow ended up the kind of guy people describe as “nice,” an adjective always uttered “as if it’s a disease he’s not quite over.” No luckier with the ladies than is Ally with the gents, Mark seems destined to be the kind of guy gals think of as “just a friend,” the kind who’s always willing to stay up all night listening to female friends telling him through sobs “how badly all my ex-boyfriends are treating me.”

Over the course of its two acts, A Kind Of Love Story keeps its heroine and hero resolutely apart, all the while making sure as Nora Ephron did in Sleepless In Seattle that despite our would-be couple’s one or two degrees of separation (he goes out on a date with his co-worker Lucy, who just happens to be Ally’s bimbo of a roommate; she is obsessed with feminist writer Casey Collins, a very close relative of our hapless hero), the fates somehow conspire to keep Ally and Mark as separate as possible until the final chapter of their modern fairy tale.

Figuring prominently in our not-yet-a-couple’s disconnected lives are:

 • Max (Rick Steadman) Ally’s on-again, off-again boyfriend, who treats her worse that the proverbial dishrag (“Chin up, kiddo, you’re still my number four”), that is when he’s not sending her not-so-romantic messages like “I’m bored. Text me a picture of your pussy.”

• Lucy (Erin Matthews), “the girl you told blonde jokes about,” the kind who wonders “What’s up with J-Date?” because she “can’t find a single Christian” and absolutely refuses to go out with anyone who carries less than a platinum card.

• Bob and Diane (Curt Bonnem and Carrie Keranen), Mark’s married best friends who have the kind of made-for-each-other relationship their singleton friend can only wish for.

• Casey (Rebecca Larsen), Ally’s lesbian feminist role model. (Well, at least she models herself on Casey’s feminist part.)

Completing the cast of characters are Donnelle Fuller, Will McMichael, Jennifer Christina Smith, and Terry Tocantins in a variety of featured and cameo roles.

Playwright Riley, who directs her play with comedic flair, developed A Kind Of Love Story over the course of Sacred Fools’ popular long-running weekly late-night series Serial Killers, which presents three continuing stories facing off each week against two new ones, the audience voting at the end of the performance on which three will survive to compete the following week. In other words, like the multiple award-winning Watson, A Kind Of Love Story has already passed the audience test time and time again. It also means that its story will unfold in episodic format, one particularly suiting a chapter-by-chapter fairytale.

Interruptions by drolly deadpan offstage narrator Eric Giancoli do eventually prove a tad too frequent—as do Ally’s repeated shoves to the ground—and while each chapter may be just the right length for a weekly Serial Killers competition, put together they could stand some pruning, A Kind Of Love Story’s over two-hour running time proving overlong for a tale as whimsical as this one.

 Still, for those like this reviewer who can think of no more appealing movie fare than a romantic comedy classic like You’ve Got Mail or Notting Hill or While You Were Sleeping, A Kind Of Love Story is theatrical manna from romcom heaven, though R-rated language and raunch bring it closer to There’s Something About Mary territory than your average Reese Witherspoon pic.

Wiita and Lanahan are both so spot-on as Ally and Mark that by the time A Kind Of Love Story reaches its oh-so-romantic climactic chapter, they have us putty in their hands.

Steadman and Matthews are standouts in a pair of considerably more colorful roles. The former is hilariously boorish as the “lowest of life forms,” the kind of unapologetically narcissistic boyfriend who can turn a cuddle into an almost blow job in five seconds flat. The latter is a delectable treat as a statuesque goddess who knows how to use her every curve (and feigned dumb blondeness) to maximum effect.

Bonnem and Keranen provide expert “couples support” as Bob and Diane, and Larsen gets to be terrific both as lipstick lesbian Casey and in a hilarious cameo as a Disneyesque Belle (of Beauty And The Beast fame). Fuller, McMichael, Smith, and Tocantins complete the cast in bang-up fashion, with a special tip of the hat to superhero-handsome McMichael’s droll cameo as none other than the Man Of Steel himself.

Set designer Tiffany McQueen has created two complementary apartments on opposing sides of the stage that are, tellingly, not quite mirror opposites. Brandon Baruch lights McQueen’s set and Marianne Davis’s character-defining costumes with trademark expertise. High marks go also to Mark McClain Wilson’s sound design and Lisa Ann Nicolai’s props. Anthony Backman’s clever projection design is a perfect complement to this theatrical fairy tale, as is the evening’s pre-show classic romcom movie montage

A Kind Of Love Story is produced by JJ Mayes, Ben Rock, and Monica Green. Annette Fasone and Addi Gash are associate producers. Bryan Bellomo is assistant director. Megan Crockett is stage manager.

Though hardly a month goes by without several Hollywood romcoms debuting on multiplexes across the land, their theatrical equivalents are considerably fewer and farther between. For those who love the genre as much as I, and even for you who might normally turn your noses up at another boy-meets-girl (or in this case doesn’t-meet-girl) tale, A Kind Of Love Story makes for a highly enjoyable entry in this Fall 2012 theater season.

Sacred Fools Theater, 660 N. Heliotrope Dr., Hollywood.

–Steven Stanley
September 22, 2012
Photos: Jessica Sherman

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