It’s the kind of topic everyone has something in common with on some level or another: love. And what better way to dissect its emotional highs and lows than through a live production? TheatreNOW is featuring Rich Orloff’s “Love Happens” every Friday and Saturday through Valentine’s Day. Audiences will see a talented cast take on first dates and first arguments, all the while indulging in a three-course meal prepared by Chef Denise Gordon.
Whereas dinner theatre often bears the cross of being “cheesy,” Oloff’s show, directed by Mirla Christe, is anything but. The script is well-written and paced, and the characters come with wisdom and depth through hefty doses of realism and comedy. A lot of this production feels like an old sitcom that airs the complications of finding love and maintaining family, and how it affects everyone differently. Details are intermittently dispersed for folks to grasp the whole picture of who these people are. The set works to their advantage better than any set I’ve seen yet at TheatreNOW, too. There’s an ease of change between living room, locker room, gym, park bench, and office. Through clever dialogue we can see their surroundings better than what’s presented onstage. It’s effective writing dressed with effective props.
The plot centers on two youngsters, Tom and Donna, who meet at the gym. Their locker pals, Phil and Rose—new to San Diego though not to each other, as the couple is approaching their 50th wedding anniversary—become friends and guidance counselors of sorts to this newfound relationship. Phil and Rose show excitement for Tom and Donna’s love match, but more so they’re intrigued by the modern-day approach and complexities of dating and sex. In fact, at one point in the play, Phil makes the comment he is glad he doesn’t have to deal with today’s dating standards and waxes nostalgia of how much simpler times were 50 years ago. You made a commitment, and you stuck by it—simple.
Played by David Bolinger, Phil’s character has hints of Larry David’s dry humor mixed with zingers reminsicent of Jackie Gleeson (“The Honeymooners” just so happens to be a plot point, too, offering an interesting dichotomy between yesteryear’s relationships and what’s expected today). Bolinger brings an ease to Phil but not in a way that shows he’s a pushover. He’s old-school and believes a man’s work is of grave importance, and if it means sacrifice to care for family, so be it. He’s also stoic and isn’t one to show emotions; just feed him, give him the remote, and he’s happy. Though to many modern women, this may seem passe, Bolinger’s Phil is likable. He has an ease about him that’s appealing. I could see how his simpler approach to life could begin to tire his wife, Rose, who wants occasional affection and, upon meeting her feminist friend, Donna, some independence.
Ella Reisher’s Rose is adorable. She’s quirky and flippant at times, but has a sincerity and interest in the way of the world by women’s standards today. She’s used to cooking and cleaning, rearing her children, keeping quiet about her desires, and being there for her family. When she sees Donna’s more abrasive approach toward reaching goals, Rose becomes re-invigorated. Reisher’s docile interest at the get-go of the show slowly transforms into a more punchy gal, but not so much that she’s Gloria Steinhem at the podium. I love her willingness to evolve but not without offending or ostracizing her husband. She carries the most grace in the show.
Maria Katsadouros’ Donna is a perfect fit in this cast. Katsadouros inserts passion and vitality into Donna—a woman who works for a San Diego feminist organization and is quick to debate the wrongdoings of any stereotype against women. Katsadouros is mouthy, but that’s what makes her appealing. She’s a brassy fighter and doesn’t back down on opinions. It’s easy to see how this can be: 1) overbearing and 2) attractive. She’s the package by today’s standards: smart, beautiful, outgoing, kind, fearless, supportive. I related to Katsadouros’ Donna on many levels, as a woman who wants it all and doesn’t mind saying what she feels when she feels it. That can be intimidating to men. Eventually, she faces this with Tom.
David Doumeng plays Donna’s gentle lover and rocket scientist beau with kindness and encouragement that every man should take notes from when wooing a woman. Doumeng is smart, handsome, bumbling at times, but also lovable. It’s his resentment for giving up his passionate career in support of his girlfriend’s career that turns the relationship sour—something that’s very real among couples. The give and take must breed love and not discontent. Alas, who is perfect? In fact, it’s a theme I noticed creeping up throughout the show: Imperfection comes with love; it’s forgiveness that sustains it. That may be the fundamental difference between generations of yesteryear and today. It left me asking: When did we lose our wont to forgive?
And that’s “Love Happens” in a nutshell: The show will leave its audiences with many talking points to share with loved ones. The questions we all wonder about among couples are addressed in some form or fashion here, with a lot of heart yet humor. “Love Happens” showcases a great thing about theatre: It can enlighten and entertain. It’s nice to see that evolve within the dinner-theatre setting, too.
Women and men were discussing some of the situations between acts while noshing on a delightfully bright artichoke and mixed greens salad with herbed creamy dressing before biting into grilled mahi, smothered in piquant pico de gallo. The tamale (if a tad dry) served alongside it came smothered in an avocado cream that I could drink from a cup. With bottles of wine flowing and nestled heads on shoulders, along with light pecks here and there, once the chocolate cake arrived, “Love Happens” ended, leaving everyone feeling fuzzy inside.
19 S. 10th Street
Tickets: $30-$40 (with special Valentine’s Day menu)