L-R: Kenny Liu, Meg Wallace, Austin Iredale, Desire Noel. Photos by Steve Jarrard
There's a lot of wisdom in "How I Fell In Love," the romantic comedy playing through November 16 at the Stephanie Feury Studio Theatre in Larchmont Village. Unfortunately, it gets lost in a soap opera that reminded me of Sex in the City without most of the laughs.
Written by Joel Fields, writer-producer of FX's The Americans, the show concerns neurotic singles Todd (Austin Iredale) and Nessa (Meg Wallace) as they entangle and disentangle themselves from a number of romantic relationships before uncovering their feelings for each other.
Todd is an underemployed literature major and wonderfully played by Austin Iredale. When he speaks directly to the audience, we listen. His heart is not just on his sleeve, it is hovering in front of his face. Nessa, played by Meg Wallace, is a ditzy medical intern filled with fantasies and stress. Meg is an accomplished actress, but either mis-directed or miscast in this role. She plays the role as a dumb blonde, making it hard to believe that she was a medical intern applying to become a hand surgery resident. I wanted to see the high IQ behind her low EQ.
The 40-pluses in the audience (I am one of them) laughed more than the under-40 crowd. We identified with the unconscious, sometimes idiotic, behaviors of Todd and Nessa, and appreciated that we've been through it already and (hopefully) left it behind. The 30-ish couple behind me watched the show through clenched teeth; as the show (performed without an intermission) went on, it became painful to watch Nessa's addiction to an abusive relationship and Todd's neurotic navel-gazing.
Fortunately, two talented supporting actors (Kenny Leu as Eric and Desire Noel as Crystal and Louise) provide much-welcome comic relief. When Eric pops on-stage to deliver a phone message or wack-jobs Crystal or Louise show up to torment Todd, the audience -- and the leads -- come back to life. We've all had crushes on people like Eric, Crystal, and Louise, and it was cathartic to laugh at them and at ourselves.
When the supporting cast is off, the show turns melodramatic. Hospital work schedules, residency applications, money troubles, pregnancy tests -- oy! One of the biggest laughs inadvertantly comes from a prop; while setting up a Chinese restaurant scene, Todd moves a Chinese cat statue, causing its hand to wave wildly. The audience, hungry for relief, latches onto this little moment of sillyness. In a show seeking to provide relationship enlightenment, a little more lightness would have helped.
"How I Fell in Love" is playing through November 16, 2014 on Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00pm and Sundays at 7:00pm at the Stephanie Feury Studio Theatre, 5636 Melrose Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90038 (Larchmont Village). Please note the theater is NOT handicap accessible.
To purchase tickets by phone, please call the box office at 323-860-6569. Purchase tickets online at http://www.plays411.com/inlove or at the door one hour prior to curtain.