Love Court, the latest production from writer and composer Bryan Williams and Isle of Shoals Productions Inc., is an uneven affair, but it seems appropriate that it would have its world premiere in our era of violent culture wars, when the realignment and polarization of moral codes– and the clash between conservative and liberal values– have lassoed the common narrative.
Much of the musical’s action takes place in the sterile offices of Amalgamated Interlocking Industries, where we quickly learn that this is a story as much about hypocrisy as it is about intimacy.
From the start, it’s clear the workers at Amalgamated think very little of Human Resources, a department headed by the prim Justin Tarrant (an assured Kasey Yeargain) and the stern Bonita Braithwaite (Isle of Shoals alum Cecilia Vaicels).
That the staff finds the rules– which forbid lateral relationships– arbitrary or even ridiculous is also evident. A sexual harassment complaint filed by the ostentatious Nadine Floyd (Samantha Lee Stoltzfus, in floozy mode deluxe) against the ill-tempered Nick Arecchi (an appropriately greasy John Mervini) has already escalated.
Hostilities are only alleviated when Tarrant’s kooky secretary, Irina Gubochovny (a riotous Ruby Locknar), makes an appearance, confusing the hell out of her coworkers with her double entendres and brazen outfits.
Away from the office, it’s evident that Tarrant, for all the dedication he brings to his job, feels inadequate around his wife, Marianne (a luminous Jennifer Teska), who used to be his college professor.
Their “Scene from a Marriage” radiates with the bittersweet resolve that only years of dissolution can animate; that hapless, forbidden puppy love which constituted the beginnings of their relationship now rests in power.
The Tarrants need not worry if they have nothing in common anymore: They both commit infidelity; he with the fair Gianella Arecchi (the ethereal Cait Kelly), who originally met with him to plead for her brother’s job; she with Danny (an excellent Justy Kosek), a student who seems to determined to have her revisit her past indiscretions.
Complicating matters for Marianne: The ever disapproving glares of Eugene (Cheney Morgan) and Darla (Natalie Martzial), two colleagues for which backstabbing and stuffy academia go hand in hand.
Love Court is only “loosely modeled” on William Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure, notes writer Bryan Williams, and while the stakes “are not quite so high,” the musical, at its core, is a tale about how “human nature in all its reckless, messy, undisciplined excess invariably makes hash of what I call the “rule of rules.”
Similarities abound in the likely mythical “Courts of Love” presided over by Eleanor of Aquitaine, the 12th century monarch– and personal heroine to Marianne–whose advocacy for romance over prejudice, tradition, and even the confines of marriage did, for a time, end warfare within her kingdom.
Peace could not last: Eleanor was later imprisoned by her husband, King Henry II, for supporting their son Henry's revolt against him.
If Love Court were an episode of The Office, it’s likely Eleanor of Aquitaine would have placed Michael Scott’s head on a pike. It’s even likelier she would have scoffed at both the often absurd matters of policy within Amalgamated Interlocking Industries, and Bonita Braithwaite as gatekeeper and custodian.
But, much as the price of war allowed for Eleanor’s imprisonment at Winchester Castle (though some sources say Sarum Castle), the rules at Amalgamated cripple the rules of engagement, and it’s only when away from prying, judgemental eyes that these characters bloom.
The “Trio” (Kevin Rogers, Hannah Grace Forsley, and Chloe Willa) are Love Court’s impromptu Greek chorus, commemorating each round of “loves me” and “loves me not.”
The staging is simple. The actors mark the transitions from scene to scene, wheeling beds and chairs and desks and even lecterns into our line of sight with relative ease. One complaint: I can only imagine how Ruby Locknar, who portrays the bawdy secretary, Irina, managed to maintain a straight face while wearing a pair of pyjamas (I thought she was a secretary?).
Nor was that the first time I found myself questioning costume designer Janet Goldberg’s artistic choices. For such a stuffy workplace, I would assume the Human Resources team at Amalgamated would have required their staff members to come to work in less ill-fitting attire.
At times, Joe D’Emilio’s lighting design serves as a virtual split screen for different characters as they voice their respective plights and relate to each other in increasingly personal ways– whether they know it or not. That makes for a bold directorial choice, too bold, perhaps, for the Robert Moss Theater, a black box on the third floor of 440 Lafayette, a space no doubt reserved for its intimacy but in which, as my past experiences can attest, untrained singing can give way to jarring shrills.
In the hands of lesser performers, the show’s appeal for intimacy would be lost– certainly their errors would be on full display– and a lack of chemistry among its ensemble would become readily apparent.
I am happy to report that each performer imbues Love Court with the sort of liveliness and color befitting a more refined production. What the production lacks in terms of a budget, it makes up for with a perceptible respect for the material at hand.
It’s not the best piece of theater you’ll ever see in your life, nor should you expect it to be. If nothing else, Love Court is a reminder that it’s possible to have a good time at the theatre without spending a week’s wage (at least!) on a seat, and that New York is a treasure trove for this exactly.
Go and relish the talent you don’t read about in the newspapers, the names which don’t dominate playbills. These people always need your support, dear reader, whether they’re revamping Shakespearean classics or serving up something more contemporary.
Love Court plays through Sunday, September 17th at the Robert Moss Theater.