Itamar Moses' Love/Stories (or But You Will Get Used To It), which opened last night at The Flea Theater in Tribeca, might very well be one of the smartest comedies theatergoers will find on stage in New York this winter. A series of five short plays that examine the nature of love and relationships, "Love/Stories" might sound like a new stage version of the late 1960s television show, Love, American Style, but Moses goes much further than this show ever did, and these plays shrewdly examine the nature of theater even as they inspire gales of laughter.
Moses' best zinger might be in the show's third playlet, Authorial Intent. A series of three scenes, "Intent" introduces theatergoers to a woman and a man, known only as A (Laurel Holland) and B (Michael Micalizzi), who've just moved in together. After watching the events of a momentous evening for the couple unfold, theatergoers are treated to the same scene, but this time, with "sidebars" in which the actors describe what their characters want and how they intend to get it. The third scene in "Intent" takes place after the play in which "A" and "B" are characters has finished. As "Lauren" and "Mike" discuss the show, he tries to get her to go out for a drink, and as the cat-and-mouse game continues, he says something about his non-standard looks and intelligence. As a press performance, the line, and Micalizzi's pitch-perfect delivery sent an entire audience into convulsions.
Micalizzi demonstrates his ability to elicit laughs in another segment of "Love/Stories," although in this instance he does it without saying a word. In "Temping," he plays a temp who's stuck listening to a co-worker (Maren Langdon) as she has a vituperative phone call with a very recent ex. While Langdon scores some laughs with the increasingly frantic call, and a subsequent one to a good friend in which she recounts the battle, Micalizzi, pushing papers, silently responds to each salvo in the one-sided conversation in both sympathy, annoyance, and increasing relief, making it quite clear that this man hopes the result of the calls will be that he will have a chance to date the woman at the next desk. It's a marvel of physical and verbal timing that's been expertly choreographed by director Michelle Tattenbaum.
As with "Intent," the art of creating theater and the sometimes incestuous world that artists inhabit comes under scrutiny in two other pieces in "Love/Stories." In the opening piece, an actor auditioning for a show finds his work undermined by the playwright, who's none too keen that the performer who wants to appear in his play also happens to be dating his ex-girlfriend. In this piece, Langdon delivers a marvelously understated performance as a strong-willed director, Felipe Bonilla scores laughs as the neurotic and vindictive writer, and Holland balances sweetness and edge as the young actress who's helping with the audition process.
In the evening's penultimate piece, "Szinhaz" a Russian theatrical auteur (Bonilla) answers questions at a symposium, moderated and translated by a young Russian woman (Langdon), with an uneasy grasp on the English language. While her mistranslations of Chekhov titles are priceless, and his arty constructs are comic gems, it's an unexpected twist that gives this piece its heft.
Unfortunately, Moses concludes "Love/Stories" with his most indulgent piece. In "Untitled Short Play," an author (played with a keenly comic sense of authority by John Russo) describes the process of writing a two-character scene, and the pitfalls and omissions that are inherent with the act of creation. It's certainly smart, but it also feels overlong and something like an excuse from Moses or an act of self-justification, ending the evening on an almost pedantic note.
Excluding the piece from the evening as a whole would be unfortunate as the themes it addresses add gracefully to the evening as a whole, but a gentle pruning and a different placement in the show might be all that's needed to transform "Love/Stories" from a perfectly satisfying evening to something that leaves the audience not only breathless from laughter, but quietly contemplating romance and its depiction on stage.
---- Andy Propst
Love/Stories (or ButYou Will Get Used To It) plays at The Flea Theater (41 White Street). Performances are Friday and Saturday at 9pm and Sunday at 3 and 7pm. Tickets are $20.00 and can be purchased by calling 212-352-3101 or by visiting www.TheFlea.org.