Gloria Gifford directs half-a-hundred of her attractive young acting students in assorted scenes from five 1970s Renée Taylor-Joseph Bologna TV specials, compiled as Love Allways, a Los Angeles Premiere that proves a mixed bag of Love Boat-style winners, losers, and in-betweeners. The good news is that you’re never far from the next winner, including the show-opening “Herb, Erica, Stuart, & Joanne” and the evening’s grand finale “Tony & Madelaine” (assuming you attended the performance reviewed here).

Which of Taylor and Bologna’s twenty-one two-to-ten-minute sketches and which three-dozen or so of Gifford’s fifty-one students you’ll end up seeing will depend on the night you attend. I saw the following playlets and performers in this order.

 Herb, Erica, Stuart, & Joanne:  A four-way relationship between Herb (Danny Siegel),  Erica (Lucy Walsh), Stuart (Chad Doreck), and Joanne (Abigail Kochunas) suits three-quarters of the two couples involved in it, leaving one unhappy spouse in their single double bed.

Mario & Yvette: Yvette (Yvette DeVito) is willing to excuse just about everything in Mario’s (Antonio Roccucci) past including dope pushing and prison (emphasis on just about).

Jimmy & Evelyn: Evelyn (Hayley Ambriz) tests Jimmy’s (Sam Mansour) love by recounting a seemingly endless litany of past perversions. Will he still love her tomorrow?

 You Waste Your Life: Game show host Eddie (Joe Filippone) and his sarong-wearing assistant (Christian Maltez) test married couple Bill (Jeff Hamasaki Brown) and Mary’s (Irini Gerkas) love. (“Bill has answered Mary’s nag and suffer with a guilt provoke.”)

You Know Who & What’s His Name: An absurdist look at a couple known only as “He” (George Benedict) and “She” (Nancy Vivar), featuring lines like “Now that I’ve gotten to know you, I feel like I’ve never seen you in my whole life.”

Steven & The Achiever: Loretta (Keturah Hamilton) celebrates her first day on the job only to find her male-chauvinist husband Steven (Billy Budinich) ordering her to get back to her previous day-to-day household routine. (Tracey Nelson appears as “Woman.”)

The Love Of Susan’s Life: Susan (Raven Bowens) meets Nick (Youtube sensation Aaron Burris) and then finds that the only way to keep him is to turn herself into someone entirely new.

Biff, Dickie, Carmel, & Roberta:  Vacations aren’t vacations for Biff (Siegel), his wife Carmel (Lucy Walsh), and their married besties Dickie and Roberta (Brown and Lauren Plaxco) unless they do everything together, but this vacation Carmel has had enough of it, particularly of Biff and Dickie’s seemingly “gay homosexual” male bonding.

Maureen’s Gift: High school senior Eddie (Marlin Chan) finds himself frustrated by girlfriend Maureen’s (Justine Estrada) insistence that they remain celibate till their college graduation.

Benny & The Woman: Nerdish movie buff Benny (Michael Barker) explains to a sad, lonely Woman (Samiya Swann) his remarkable ability to predict movie stardom for the unknowns (Steve McQueen, Robert Duvall, Simon & Garfunkel) who keep crossing his path.

Eleanor’s Magic Moment: Eleanor (Tejah Signori) attends a cocktail party hosted by married couple Betty and Herb (Cynthia San Luis and Siegel), one whose guests include a Married Man (Gershon Roebuck), a Married Woman (Diva Yazdian), a Single Man (Chris Jones), a Single Woman (Hamilton), and most significantly Herb (Hailé D’Alan), who wants himself and Eleanor to leave their respected spouses for each other.

Tony & Madelaine: A behind-the-scenes look at married superstars Tony (Doreck) and Madelaine (Nakta Pahlevan), who despite the constant presence of his entourage (Benedict and Benito Paje) and her posse (Joshua Farmer, Joe Fillipone, Kelly Musselwhite, and Deidra Shanell doing some hilarious physical comedy bits) can’t stop from enacting their passionate apache dance of love and hate.

While not everyone in Gifford’s cast rises to the level of the best of her performers (some scenes would benefit from being taken down a level and played more for authenticity and less for laughs), the most successful among them (Herb, Erica, Stuart, & Joanne; Mario & Yvette; Jimmy & Evelyn; Biff, Dickie, Carmel, & Roberta; Benny & The Woman; and Tony & Madelaine) are quite delightful indeed. (It’s unfortunate though hardly surprising given their age that none of Taylor and Bologna’s forty-year-old sketches spotlight same-sex relationships.)

Doreck’s bookending performances make him the evening’s standout, particularly his star turn as Brad to Pahlevan’s Madelaine, the latter not only a curvaceous beauty but, like Mansour’s adorably slang-spouting Jimmy, turning her non-native accent into a plus. Barker and Swann stand out too in Benny & The Woman, the evening’s only excursion into subtlety, and a charmer.

Gifford and Walsh’s set design takes us from Act One’s collection of bedrooms and living rooms to Act Two’s restaurants and lounges. Chris Rivera’s lighting is pretty much on-and-off, but some great golden oldies link scenes during blackouts. Costumes by hair-and-makeup designer Kasia Pilewicz and Gifford are lovely to look at, but because dated pop cultural references (“Midnight Cowboy”) and the sketches themselves make this a period piece (albeit one that contemporary couples can still relate to), 1970s styles would seem more fitting. (On a similar note, a cell phone seems out of place and time.)

Love Allways is produced by Doreck, Plaxco, and Jade Warner. Keith Walker and Justin Truesdale are stage managers.

Though the Love Allways you experience may be quite different from the one described here, chances are that whenever you attend, you’ll find enough bright spots to keep you entertained from start to finish, if not “allways” in-between.

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Gray Studios, 5250 Vineland Ave., North Hollywood.

–Steven Stanley
March 19, 2017
Photos: Mathew Caine@ Studio Digitrope


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