Life and love by five

The 1968 romantic comedy "Lovers and Other Strangers" is almost five shows in one because of the way it's broken into separate but related vignettes, says director Mike Roark.

"It's sort of like the old TV show 'Love American Style' where you see the same actors week after week but playing different characters in different stories," says Roark, whose version opens tonight at Crown Uptown Theatre and runs through March 27.

"The vignettes don't really have anything to do with each other. There is no one story, except that they are all about life and love. They look at some serious topics, but they are handled hilariously," Roark says.

The play was written by married actors Joseph Bologna and Renee Taylor as a Broadway vehicle for themselves, based loosely on their own life experiences of bringing together disparate family and friends to unite into a hilariously volatile Italian/Jewish household. The two later adapted and expanded the play for a 1970 movie with a raft of stars, including Gig Young, Cloris Leachman, Michael Brandon and Bonnie Bedelia plus Diane Keaton in her film debut and Sylvester Stallone as an extra.

The film was nominated for three Oscars, including best screenplay for Bologna and Taylor, which sparked such other semiautobiographical collaborations as "Made for Each Other," "It Had to Be You" and "If You Ever Leave Me, I'm Going With You."

"The original play had four vignettes, but they added a fifth for the movie. It became so popular that they added it officially to the play, so we will be doing the whole thing," Roark says.

The themes deal with the ups and downs of relationships as seen through the eyes of both a young couple just getting together and older couples who have been around the block a few times and aren't quite so nai(uml)ve — although they still are often just as romantic.

In one scene, a man wants to pick up a woman in a bar and ends up testing limits about just how liberated either of them are. In another, a woman carrying on an illicit affair with a married man barricades herself in the bathroom at his anniversary party and vows to leave him while he tries to talk her out of it. In others, a couple experiments with role reversal in the bedroom and a confirmed bachelor tries to figure out how to break up with his longtime girlfriend.

And in the largest scene, involving four at the same time, an older couple tries to tell a disgruntled younger couple wanting a divorce just what marriage is really all about.

Playing the various lovers and strangers are Kip Scott, Timothy W. Robu, Rob Summers, Sarah Gale, Beth Wise and Melissa Nay. Nay, who is from Florida, is making her Crown debut. Roark is director and Kimberly Dugger is music director.

While the comedy is not a musical, Roark and Dugger are adding pop love songs — like "Endless Love," "I Got You, Babe" and "My Girl" — sung by cast members between vignettes to carry the romantic mood while sets are being changed.

In addition, director Roark is setting each of the five vignettes in a different decade — from the 1960s up to the 2000s — to show how the universal truths of love never change despite changing fads, fashions and cultural tomfoolery.

"Love doesn't really change," he says. "What was true then is still true now."

If you go

'lovers and other strangers'

What: Romantic comedy by Joseph Bologna and Renee Taylor

Where: Crown Uptown Theatre, 3207 E. Douglas

When: Opens tonight and runs Thursday-Sunday through March 27 with Thursday matinees on Feb. 23, March 3 and 17. Also special Valentine's Day (Monday) show.

How much: Tickets: $28.95-$35.95 (plus tax) for buffet and show; call 316-681-1566.