An out-of-the-blue wedding proposal a full two years after a couple’s breakup is hardly a conventional way to start off a romantic comedy, but the originality of this opening salvo is just one reason why Michael Mitnick’s The Siegel is such a South Coast Repertory treat.

Most contemporary parents would probably be pleased as punch to have their 30ish daughter’s boyfriend do the old-fashioned thing and ask for her hand in “holy agnostic matrimony.”

Not Ron and Deborah (Matthew Arkin and Amy Aquino), whose pride-and-joy Alice (Mamie Gummer) has not only not seen or heard from aspiring photographer Ethan Siegel (Ben Feldman) in the twenty-four months since they split, she’s now happily coupled with handsome, successful Nelson (Dominique Worsley).

Not being one to take “You’re crazy!” for an answer, Ethan decides to bypass the ‘rents and plead his case face-to-face, but Alice, still smarting from the loss of the presidential candidate for whom she senior staffed, seems no more interested in a romantic reunion than her parents, and when Nelson shows up, his reaction is as predictable as Alice’s.

Ethan’s ex does, however agree to a three-way discussion over dinner out during which Nelson insults Ethan’s job (“A photographer just looks through a little hole and pushes a button.”) and Ethan, once Alice has stormed away to get a drink, enumerates Nelson’s girlfriend’s many faults (“She can barely and I mean barely play ice hockey.” “She cheated on me twice … with you.”) but to no avail.

Nothing that might possibly be wrong with Alice proves problematic to Nelson, which leaves the ball once again in Ethan’s court with his entire future on the line.

As Meg and Tom and Julia and Richard made abundantly clear back in the ‘90s, casting can make or break a romantic comedy, and in Feldman (who manages to make the term “hot nebbish” not an oxymoron), director Casey Stangl has found an Ethan we can’t help but root for no matter how outrageous the things coming out of his mouth might sound, and Gummer’s smart, sexy, stylish, svelte Alice is precisely the shiksa goddess of any Siegel’s dreams, so of course theirs must be a match made in romcom heaven.

No wonder, then, that things seem to be heading towards happily ever after, that is until we meet Worsley’s tall, hunky, utterly charming Nelson, and the happy ending we’ve seen coming doesn’t seem nearly as predictable or even as desirable as it might originally have appeared.

That playwright Mitnick manages to tie things up in a manner that both surprises and satisfies is yet another reason to cheer The Siegel’s World Premiere engagement at South Coast Rep. (Unless I missed something, the titular tribute to a certain Chekov play seems restricted to a handful of Seagull references.)

Stage-and-screen vets Arkin and Aquino match their younger costars every step of the way, Mitnick giving them plenty to work with as a long-married couple with quirks of their own, and loyalties as divided as ours where Alice’s soul mate is concerned, and Devon Sorvari’s eleventh hour cameo is a winner too, though to reveal even the slightest tidbit about her Jordan would be criminal.

Michael B. Raiford’s striking scenic design gives The Siegel’s “Present day. A city” setting a modern impressionist painting backdrop while allowing the play’s assorted rooms, restaurants, and bars to revolve in and out in a jiff. David Kay Mickelsen’s costumes are both stylish and character-appropriate, Elizabeth Harper lights both set and costumes quite gorgeously indeed, and sound designer Cricket S. Myers backs up scene changes with just-right urban-jazzy instrumentals.

Jerry Patch is dramaturg. Roxana Khan is stage manager. Jackie S. Hill is dramaturg. Casting is by Joanne DeNaut, CSA.

There’s probably no SoCal regional theater with a better track record for romcoms that South Coast Rep. To gems like Vietgone, Completeness, and Trudy And Max In Love can now be added The Siegel. Like the character that gives it its name, it proves pretty darned irresistible.

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South Coast Repertory, 655 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa.

–Steven Stanley
April 4, 2017
Photos: Debora Robinson/SCR


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