Truthful moments make ‘I Love You’ enduring entertainment

02/14/2014 3:47 PM

08/08/2014 10:34 AM

What makes the long-running off-Broadway hit “I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change” work is the delicate balance between the somewhat cynical, razor-sharp wit about modern relationships and the schmaltzy assurance that despite every frustrating, exasperating, infuriating thing, love is ultimately worth it.

It’s a clever package from playwright Joe DiPietro with bouncy, almost sing-along music by Jimmy Roberts that has stood the test of time, making the romantic revue the second-longest-running off-Broadway musical behind only “The Fantasticks.”

This new production, breezily directed by Kathryn Page Hauptman for the Forum Theatre, isn’t quite as perfect as it should be. Opening night suffered a few technical glitches, from a flashlight that failed to illuminate a face to a video screen announcing scene titles that was lagging at the beginning to some noisy scene changes.

But the engaging four-member cast – Stephen Hitchcock, Sarah Gale McQuery, Dylan Lewis and Briley Meek – got the heart of the show right, from several laugh-out-loud moments of twisted truth about dating and mating to heart-felt warmth about enduring relationships.

To be sure, a couple of scenes – one involving suing a lover for failing to deliver sexual satisfaction and one involving a “Scared Straight” parody of a singles support group – failed to deliver comically because the timing was off. The bits seemed more awkward than outrageous, but I’m betting that they’ll get better as the players get more comfortable with them.

The show is a series of vignettes with cast members taking on roles as needed. It begins with dating in all its hormone-fueled awkwardness to marriage to parenthood and beyond, including a sweet sojourn into geriatric flirting.

There’s the blind date couple who want to skip the awkwardness of the first date and plunge right into the affair, including their first fight and breakup – all in a matter of minutes. There’s the nerdy couple who fantasize about being “A Stud and a Babe,” but decide that being themselves isn’t so bad. There are the exasperated parents urging their commitment-phobic son and his career-oriented fiancee to tie the knot before they end up all alone.

The four actors have solid voices but there were moments when the singing became a little screechy, perhaps from a sound imbalance. But for the most part, they came through beautifully, well-supported with the appropriately intimate accompaniment of Tim Raymond on piano and Chris Lovell on violin.

Among highlights are Meek’s almost country-flavored lament “Always a Bridesmaid, Never a Bride,” and Lewis’ sweetly hilarious “The Baby Song” about a new dad who catches himself slipping into baby talk even with adults (wubba wubba woo). Meek and Lewis are also wonderful as a couple of elderly widowed folks who meet at a funeral and realize that they still have that spark of romantic life in “I Can Live With That.”

Hitchcock delivers the most emotional, heart-tugging punch as a long-married man who looks over the breakfast table at his wife, wondering “Shouldn’t I Be Less In Love With You?”

And McQuery shines with a humorous, heartbreaking but ultimately reaffirming monologue as a newly divorced woman making a video for a dating service. We see McQuery both from the side on stage and on the video screen behind her looking right into our eyes as she bares her soul, recounting her humiliations (her husband didn’t have the “decency” to leave her for a younger, prettier, perkier girl but for an older woman) and then finding her strength without apology.

Truthful moments like those from Hitchcock and McQuery give the show its satisfying substance to endure beyond being just romantic entertainment.

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