Strong Performances Rescue Unrequited Love

Unrequited Love, Freudian Psychology and Other Small Tragedies by Jose Guzman

In the name of love, we are willing to make the most unlikely connections, dredge up the most improbable metaphors. Consider Philip Larkin's paen to the act of love: "Love again, wanking at half past three." In Unrequited Love, Freudian Psychology and Other Small Tragedies, Jose Guzman, as both writer and director, takes a relatively conventional approach to the subject. He gives us, as the title of his play suggests, unrequited love and a bit of psychology. Alternately poetic and awkward in its linguistic sensibility,

Unrequited Love suffers at least intermittently from an identity problem. While the title suggests a cognizance of the tragi-comic potentia of love, the line between comedy and tragedy seems too hastily drawn.

The play's focus is John, a sort of Holden Caulfield for the "Silver Spoons" set, and his unrequited passion for his longtime friend Lisa. Rejecting the complicated poetics of the Petrachan lover,

John simply declares to his psychiatrist, "I didn't deserve her. I didn't get her. Now she's gone." He has difficulty articulating just why his love object, Lisa, should want him, but, like most of us, he is convinced, as though by a rare knowledge of the workings of destiny, that he is deserving.

The scenes featuring John as a young adolescent, are somewhat unpleasant, and the humor is sometimes strained. Steve Raizes brings the appropriate mix of awkwardness and sensitivity to the character, but he is too often given lines that sound ridiculous when they are supposed to be coming from the mouth of a 14-year-old.

John's unpleasant precosciousness comes across as creepy rather than charming and funny. Far better and more genuine are the scenes featuring the older John and Lisa (played by Liz Amberg), though the latter's character is never developed enough to justify John's frantic state of mind.

In the play's early scenes, Amberg gives the aspiring dancer Lisa an a genial air of ingenuousness, but her acting is weak in the confrontation scene in which John confesses his love.

It is necessary for a writer dealing with a subject like love to recreate for his audience a moment of wonder, not just to give them another beautiful dancer. The psychiatrist played by Andrew Sachs, is another character used as a vehicle for both introspection and humor, a mix that doesn't always work well.

The inability of the writer to choose between comedy and "small" tragedy adds confusion rather than complexity to the story.

Few writers, (Lorrie Moore is one exception) can recapture the painful essence of a bad joke.

The script's '80s references, to Ricky Schroeder and the Coreys--Haim and Feldman--come out wrong; the laughs these kinds of jokes generate arise from the audience's sense of recognition rather than from real effort on the writer's part to be funny.

The psychiatrist is given some good lines. His response to John's description of the unattainable Lisa provokes a hilariously digressive musing on a bikini-clad would-be Lolita form his distant past. But Sachs' timing is sometimes off, robbing the lines of their comic potential.

But the main problem with the script is its unevenness. The script at times has potential. When John humorously recounts his first, loveless sexual encounter with Jessica (Liz Hanify), a soul-mate in unrequited love with a passion for the unattainable Greg, he describes losing his virginity "to Lisa and Jessica and...Greg."

But there are also some jokes that should have been left out altogether.

Referring to the same regrettable encounter, John says in all seriousness, "I guess that's the price of sex," to which the psychiatrist awkwardly responds, "On Park Avenue, it's $500 a night."

Similarly, an epsiode featuring a flashback of a busty English teacher, also played by Hanify, who makes a lot of puns on "long" and "hard," is too cliched and vulgar to be funny.

At times, the play's dialogue threatens to take on the hypnotic, oddly soporific rythmn of psychoanal-ese. Oddly enough, there's little psychology and almost no Freud in "Unrequited Love. Freudian Psychology and Other Small Tragedies," except in the suggestion of the main character's litany of vague neuroses. Save for a strange scene highlighting the Philip-Rothish mother's fixation with ear-cleaning.

Guzman doesn't make much use of the comic potential of the subject. Other themes, like John's conflict with his parents, are similiarly suggested then abandoned, to the frustration of the viewer.

In the end, John discovers, with the help of his psychiatrist, of course, the good that has come from his rejection by Lisa, a loss that leads him to the brink of suicide. But the ending comes too abruptly, offering an awkward reconciliation of love and pathology.

John finally accepts that Lisa will never love him, he decides to get on with his life, and everyone kisses and makes up. Certainly, a play is not supposed to mirror reality exactly, but it must retain a level of semblance to the world around us. Too often, Unrequited Love, Freudian Psychology and Other Small Tragedies, fails to maintain this critical distance.