The cast of Early Bird Dinner Theatre’s production of “Lovers and Other Strangers” includes, from left, Charles W. Wilcox, Barbara Anthony, Tracy Borgatti and Toby Manion.
From spur-of-the-moment flings to the acquiescence of marital stagnation, love is a complex business, sometimes thorny, sometimes rosy – but rarely dull.
Early Bird Dinner Theatre’s production of “Lovers and Other Strangers” takes a humorous look at love – both the splendid and slightly sordid varieties. The play will run through Oct. 31 at Italian-American Club, 200 S. McMullen Booth Road, Clearwater.
The play, written by Renee Taylor and Joseph Bologna, is a series of five vignettes examining different relationships. The unspoken connection between the separate episodes is that they all take place on a Saturday night in the spring of 1978 in various apartments scattered around New York City.
The first vignette follows Jerry who has lured Brenda back to his apartment and employs his best tactics to seduce her. Much to his dismay, Brenda appears more interested in discussing the philosophy of love than in participating in any acts of wanton passion.
The second scene opens with distraught Cathy threatening to commit suicide if Hal doesn’t leave his wife for her. Hal desperately tries to avoid rocking the boat as they recount the intricacies of sustaining their long-lived affair while simultaneously “keeping everyone happy.”
Other vignettes reveal pre-wedding day jitters and the problem of shifting spousal roles in the modern age. The concluding segment, the best developed one of the series, has an Italian couple trying to salvage their son’s marriage by confessing their own failings.
EBDT regular Toby Manion shows his range portraying not-so-smooth operator Jerry in the first scene, the pathetic cheating husband Hal in the second scene and short-tempered father Frank in the final segment. His portrayal of deflated machismo in this episode is particularly fun to watch.
Manion is always at his best when he’s sharing a scene with Barbara Anthony. The two have nurtured a subtle but significant stage chemistry for nearly a decade and the results are evident in “Lovers and Other Strangers.”
Anthony’s wide assortment of exaggerated expressions are downright hilarious whether she’s trying to off herself with an electric razor as Cathy or trying to convince her daughter-in-law that marriage is more a state of perpetual contentment that rapturous bliss as the Italian matriarch Beatrice.
Tracy Borgatti is the busiest actor on the stage, participating in four out of five vignettes. Each role differs vastly from any other. It is interesting to watch how Borgatti manages to depict the contrasting characteristics to give them individuality.
Charles W. Wilcox is a newcomer to EBDT, but he has been performing for more than 20 years. His portrayal of Mike, a nervous groom-to-be, is as explosive as it is hysterical, even though the scene’s punchline isn’t difficult to predict. He even manages to make his role as underappreciated Johnny credible though the scene’s theme may be somewhat antiquated in 2010.
Some scenes in “Lovers and Other Strangers” do suffer from outdated mores.
Concepts which once depended upon their shock value to induce laughter simply don’t have the same power today. The production, in both its themes and its presentation, is actually reminiscent of the television program “Love, American Style,” an hour-long anthology that aired between 1969 and 1974 and featured tales of romance with a comedic spin.
On the other hand, taken as a humorous glimpse at how relationships were perceived in the 1970s, the more universal themes throughout remain valid and the bumper crop of comedy is still there for an able troupe of actors – like those at EBDT – to harvest.
Seatings for performances are Thursday through Sunday, 4 p.m. Seating for matinees are Thursday and Saturday, 11 a.m. Cost for buffet and show is $29.90 plus tax. For reservations, call 446-5898 or visit www.earlybirddinnertheatre.com.