A pair of writers meet cute in a “writers’ room” only to fall impossibly in love in Zoe Kazan’s heartbreakingly funny Trudy And Max In Love, now getting its World Premiere at South Coast Repertory.

??????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????? Max Task (Michael Weston) is thirty-nine and the author of a popular memoir, a good deal of which was surely inspired by his “major druggie-alcoholic-socialite” parents. He’s currently working on a novel.

Trudy Miles (Aya Cash) is twenty-eight, the child of a pair of New Jersey professors and married for the past six years to Cliff, a journalist currently away on the campaign trail. She’s written one young adult novel, and is currently working on its sequel.

Since both are young, personable, and more than reasonably attractive, it doesn’t take long for their smart, sassy banter to lead to friendship.

Little by little, Max reveals himself to Trudy. “I used to date crazy,” he tells her, “and now … it’s complicated.” His one stipulation with the women he dates (including his current model girlfriend Chiara) is that there be no “drama.” Perhaps this is why Max has remained friends with all his exes. “Nothing hurts if you don’t have feelings,” he tells Trudy before adding, “Love is a fiction people make up to assuage their guilt about having sex.”

Trudy is rather less forthcoming about herself. Max doesn’t know, for example, that she’s been seeing a psychiatrist since she was nineteen. He doesn’t know that “for so long with Cliff, I was grateful, just grateful to be happy and not be depressed. Anymore.” Only Trudy’s shrink knows that she “used to seek out attention from stupid fucking men just to feel good about myself,” or that she and her husband have absolutely nothing to talk about.

It takes Trudy considerably longer than Max to make Kazan’s play’s title a reality, but sooner or later the pair must confront the reality that they are indeed Trudy And Max In Love—and not necessarily headed for a storybook ending. There is, after all, the pesky little matter of a husband Trudy still loves.

??????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????? In Trudy Miles and Max Task, playwright Kazan has created two smart, witty, flawed, yet ultimately sympathetic characters, a hero and heroine who capture our interest from their first, bantery meeting and hold it over the course of a summer of falling in love, even as her play shifts almost imperceptibly from its romcom-flavored early scenes into more dramatic territory as its protagonists’ feelings for each other have them realizing just how unlikely it is that no one involved in this impossible romantic triangle will come out unscathed.

Of course none of this would work nearly as well as it does under Lila Neugebauer’s sharp, perceptive direction without just the right pair of leads, and in New York’s Cash and L.A. stage-and-screen staple Weston, South Coast Rep has struck gold.

Cash’s quirky charm and girl-next-door beauty have us liking Trudy and rooting for her from the start, and the always terrific, charismatic Weston has never been as goshdarn likeable as he is as Max. Both stars had me at hello, and the deeper Trudy and Max fell, the more this reviewer found his heart taken. Needless to say, tears ended up shed amidst the smiles and laughter.

Supporting characters are brought to vivid life in a series of incisive cameos by SCR newbie Tate Ellington and SoCal favorite Celeste Den.

????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????? Ellington is wonderful as Trudy’s longtime psychiatrist Dr. Palmer, as gayish bartender Terrence, as writers’ group member Jeff, and most importantly as Max’s college friend Billy Brenner, an actor suddenly a TV series success after fifteen years off-Broadway.

???????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????? Den is every bit as impressive as an ill-tempered waitress, as writer (and Billy’s ex) Rochelle, and as Trudy’s man-crazy friend Christine. (Kudos to SCR, director Neugebauer, and casting director Joanne DeNaut, CSA, for casting Den, not because her roles were “written Asian”—which they’re not—but simply because she’s so darned good.)

?????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????? It will come as no surprise to any South Coast Rep regular just how marvelous Trudy And Max In Love looks, from Laura Jellinek’s expansive writers’ room set that lets our imagination do the rest, to Melanie Watnick’s character-apt costumes, to Lap Chi Chu’s as always impeccable lighting design, to sound designer Cricket S. Myers’ edgy pop soundtrack.

Kimberly Colburn is dramaturg, Jackie S. Hill production manager, and Kathryn Davies stage manager.

Like so many South Coast Repertory World Premieres before it, Trudy And Max In Love could easily become a regional and college favorite. A smart script and characters to care about make Zoe Kazan’s latest an all-around winner.

South Coast Repertory, 655 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa. Through January 26. Tuesdays through Fridays at 7:45, Saturdays and Sundays at 2:00 and 7:45. No evening performance on Sunday January 26. Reservations: (714) 708-5552

–Steven Stanley
January 12, 2014
Photos: Debora Robinson/SCR

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