Friday, October 23, 2015

Review: Have I Seen This Story Before?

Love comes when we least expect it. Even when the situation is immensely predictable. In Joe Godrey's love drama Romance Language, a widow seeks comfort from a younger Italian man who seeks his own support. But leave it to the suspecting daughter to halt love in its tracks.
Predictable yet well crafted, Romance Language is a sappy soap-like drama that follows the saga of Kay and Fiore as they discover their need for each other overrides practicality. With the melodrama on high, Romance Language may not embark on a fresh story but Godfrey finds a way bring truth into the characters he crafts. At the center of the play is aging widow Kay. Secluding herself in her tiny New York City apartment, she is encouraged to find a hobby. That hobby comes in the form of Italian teacher Fiore who provides Kay with the world's most beautiful language and little bit of excitement on the side. The bond seems to be true but when Kay's lawyer daughter Penny catches wind, skepticism presides. Godfrey’s take on the plot was heading in one of two directions. Like all similar stories, the daughter was going to find a way to prevent her mother from loving a man half her age or the man and the daughter were going to fall deeply in love leaving the mother in a puddle of despair. Godfrey chose the former. What's unfortunate for Romance Language, no matter how rich Godfrey crafted his characters, there was always going to be something funny about the plot. The audience would inevitably react with giggles. With similar situations often found in Hollywood romcoms or day time soap operas, no matter how Godfrey and director Carl Andress tried, the execution was not going to be what was ideally intended. And it's a shame because the characters are truly rounded. Though much of the plot was greatly aided by the simple and easy fact that Penny was a truth-seeking hard-nosed lawyer. What Godfrey does smartly is defying the cougar stereotypes that society jokes upon. Kay wasn't overtly seductive and sex hungry. She was a woman longing for companionship and found it in a younger man.
photo by Joan Marcus
With that, Audrey Heffernan Meyer couldn't help but play into the heightened drama of the situation to no fault of her own. As Key, Meyer found beauty and hope in despair, trying to be optimistic that love wins. Meyer’s Key was honest but it’s hard to not believe she was na├»ve. Jared Zirilli as Fiore kept his high stakes objective present throughout. Playing the part of the charmer, Zirilli was a fast-talking knowing that time was of the essence. Was Fiore scamming Kay or was he truly in love? We’ll never know. But if Marin Lee’s Penny made us believe anything it was that she cared about her mother more than anyone else. While the central relationship was between Kay and Fiore, it was the bond between Penny and Kay that was most dynamic. Playing the considered caretaker-like daughter, Lee was strong and confident. The lawyer persona worked to her advantage. Godfrey allowed ambiguity to shine through until the final moment but part of me so wanted Penny to whip out the egg before the blackout concluded.
Director Carl Andress’ approach to the story was simple. The goal was to find hope and honesty in the characters and the situation. With little substance to the plot, Andress keyed into the relationships, pinpointing the power of companionship. Kay’s world is very delicate and pristine and it reflected in Paul Tate dePoo’s scenic design. With clean lines and a soft color pallet, the ambiance was fitting. With a singular location, lighting designer Grant Yeager kept things simple but nothing was more stunning than some of those bleeds in and out of transitions where the burst of color lived within the crown molding. The soundtrack by Bart Fasbender fit the mood of the play well. It too was delicate and pristine.
There is certainly a specific audience that will enjoy Romance Language at face value. But the plot that Joe Godfrey has devised is sadly unoriginal. His way with words and ability to craft characters is what he has to stand on. Put these characters in another situation and perhaps Godrey has a winning story but the fact is this older woman-younger man saga is tired.