Theater review: A frothy ‘Living on Love’ gets its laughs at 2nd Space Theatre
The butlers do it.
Forgive me; that may have come across as a bit crass. What the butlers manage to do, in the snappy, vintage-style comedy “Living on Love,” is make this Good Company Players production whistle an extra happy tune. I loved watching Ethan Magill (a Fresno State theater major making his GCP debut) and Charis (a talented newcomer to Fresno from New Zealand making his GCP and American debut; he goes by just one name). The persnickety duo works in the penthouse New York apartment that serves as the setting for the play. When one pops out from the left hallway, the other matches his motions from the right. As they glide through the action performing identically matched maneuvers, it’s like watching synchronized swimming for butlers.
Related story: THEATER PREVIEW: WITH ‘LIVING ON LOVE’ AT THE 2ND SPACE THEATRE, GOOD COMPANY IS OUT TO MAKE YOU SMILE
The play, adapted by Joe DiPietro from Garson Kanin’s 1985 play “Peccadillo,” is a light, frothy period piece (it’s set in the 1950s) that is not likely to be known as one of the great comedy classics of the 2010s. (It opened on Broadway in 2015 and closed a month later.) But it’s sweet and funny, the cast is on top of things, and J. Daniel Herring’s direction is strong.
An amusing Renee Newlove plays Raquel De Angelis, an opera diva whose superstar status is on the decline. (Renee Fleming showed off her comic chops in the Broadway production in a role that played against her image of a non-diva diva.) The best way to annoy her is to compare her to her contemporary, Maria Callas. She’s married to an equally famous virtuoso conductor, Vito De Angelis (played by a delightfully harumphing Patrick Allan Tromborg). Like his wife, Vito’s star seems to be slipping. His great annoyance is to be compared to Leonard Bernstein.
To help steady the family’s finances, Vito has agreed to pen his memoir. After a marital tiff, Raquel, too, decides to write her own memoir. Completion of the respective books becomes a race to the finish between diva and maestro as a couple of ghostwriters, Iris Peabody (Cassidy Leclair, making her GCP debut) and Robert Samson (Benjamin Geddert) get caught up in the complicated family fray.
Through it all, of course, are the butlers, popping out from stage left and right at regular intervals, offering catty remarks, disparaging the writers and assisting their masters with various marital machinations.
Tromborg and Newlove have a sassy chemistry and good comic timing. He makes his first grand entrance in a resplendent burgundy dressing gown (Ginger Kay Lewis Reed’s costumes are spiffy), his hair a topsy-turvy mess, and he lays on the Italian accent with extra marinara. When she makes her first entrance, it’s with a diva’s tra-la arrogance. The character is charmingly written. (“Never be afraid to glisten,” she says. And another, my favorite: “Was that a bird singing? No, it was just me.”)
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As the ghostwriters, Geddert and Leclair deliver fresh-faced, enthusiastic performances.
“Living on Love” is a slight play, by which I mean that if its oblique silliness hits you the right way, you’ll likely find it endlessly charming. Others might consider it a bit tired and, as one critic put it, “lumpy.” For me, the play’s biggest flaw in terms of the writing is that the four main characters are too nice. Maybe I’m just too conditioned to partisan death brawls these days to appreciate more subtle depictions of conflict. Despite some sharp one-liners and a few showy explosions of marital tension between Vito and Raquel, it isn’t hard to figure how things will settle out romantically in the end. For me, it was mostly a pleasant journey watching things fall into place.
Except for the butlers. Thank goodness for them. They aren’t nice – from the beginning. Yes, I think the butlers do a lot to help make this show. And they do it in more ways than one.