written and directed by Todd Kessler
at the Loeb Experimental Theater
In Darlene, writer and director Todd Kessler '94 creates a world of odd characters and situations, centered around the owners and clients of two New York dating agencies. With snappy dialogue and solid performances from the two leads, Darlene overcomes some weakness of plot to provide a cute, enjoyable show that capitalizes on the humor of modern life and love.
A one-act play of about an hour, Darlene focuses on the relationship between Sidney (Glenn Kessler) and Rose (Esme Howard), "New York's premier matchmakers." While Sidney and Rose do power lunches setting up their clients with one another, some of their strangest "success" stories parade in and out, complicating Sidney's plans for romance with Rose. With songs like "Just Friends" and "Can't We Be Friends" as background music, the play has a bit of a "When Harry Met Sally" feel, and Sidney's quest for love forms the backbone of the play.
Despite this slightly sappy plotline, Glenn Kessler is convincing as Sidney, the clownish con-man who is "tired of making other people happy." His delivery is energetic and humorous, and his joking, "aim to please Sid Freeze" mode is wonderfully shallow. While Todd Kessler trods some familiar ground in his choice of characters--he mocks yuppie stereotypes throughout the play--he provides some imaginative, funny material nonetheless. Sidney subscribes to his therapist's theory of "Rosenblatt reality" in which thinking oneself at a place is equated to being there, and Rose's first reaction to Sidney's proclamation that he "wants more" is to ask if he's buying a beach house.
As Rose, Esme Howard plays foil to Kessler's Sidney, and depicts a woman who once wanted love but has gotten over it. The ice princess act grows a little tiresome toward the end of the play, but her scenes with Sidney are natural, anchoring Darlene amidst the zaniness of its other characters. One of the most amusing of these is Lucy, a new take on the earthy-actress image that provides a nice small role for Danielle Kwatinetz. Her portrayal is delightfully off beat, with flighty gestures and intonation perfectly matched to her nonsensical train of thought.
Playwright Kessler's quirkiness, however, can also be overwhelming, and not all of the actors are as successful in carrying off their roles. Peter (Mark Baskin) is a tad too stereotypical as a formerly-imprisoned teleevangelist, but Baskin tries to make the most of his purposely cheesy lines, greeting Donna with "God bless your four chambered heart" and "God bless your ventricles." As the gullible, God-loving Donna, Katie Guillory doesn't seem to know where to focus her gaze on stage, which makes her performance a bit too spacy and distracted. Kessler occasionally overstretches reality--the idea of Donna writing "God" on an envelope of money is amusing, but Peter's apparently sincere wonderment over the mailman's new Mercedes is difficult to believe.
Taking place entirely in a restaurant, with some small side-scenes, the play benefits from its clean, uncluttered surroundings. The set and lighting, by Chris Tiffany and Chris Scully respectively, are simple but well-fitting, and especially effective is the placing of Trish (Bethany Leeman), Rose's best friend, in a niche upstage for telephone conversations. The success of these inserts makes us wish we could hear the other side of Sidney's cellular conversations with his all-knowing secretary, who serves as his romantic adviser.
While Darlene has its awkward moments (at one point in the play, Sidney and Rose simply walk off stage for no apparent reason), the momentary lapses are worth the engaging dialogue that Kessler has created. While one of the characters warns "Don't mistake puns for personality," Darlene treats us to a helping of both, with dar-licious results.