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LIGHTNING REVIEW: Dated 'Love List' still leaves 'em laughing

Preston Dyar and Scott Treadway star in 'The Love List' at the Flat Rock Playhouse. Preston Dyar and Scott Treadway star in 'The Love List' at the Flat Rock Playhouse.

Early in the first century century A.D. the Roman poet Ovid wrote a poem entitled, “Metamorphoses,” a portion of which is about a sculptor, Pygmalion, who falls in love with a statue of his own creation — the perfect woman. Since then, fascination with the “perfect woman” has been a common theme in literature, television and movies. In Cinderella the perfect woman emerges by means of a bath and ball gown. In George Bernard Shaw’s 1912 play Pygmalion, perfection comes through education. In the seventh season of Seinfeld, Jerry thinks he’s found the perfect woman. How can she not be? She is just like him.

The Love List, this season’s second offering on the Flat Rock Playhouse Main Stage, falls squarely in the “perfect woman” category, but it bears less resemblance to the erudite Pygmalion than to the 1985 John Hughes teen romp Weird Science. In Weird Science two teen-aged computer geniuses, Gary and Wyatt, feed the measurements of a Playboy centerfold among other parameters into their home computer. For extra memory they hack into the Pentagon’s mainframe computer. At the instant of connection with the Pentagon’s powerful machine lightning strikes, and out of the awesome combination of megabytes and megawatts comes, not Frankenstein’s monster, but the sexy sci-fi babe, Lisa (Kelly LeBrock).

It is disheartening to consider that the maturity of the average male, be he 15 or 50, plateaus at puberty unless confronted by a supernatural event. That seems to be a key message of Canadian playwright Norm Foster’s The Love List. The play is set in Bill’s messy New York apartment. It begins with post birthday dinner banter between Bill (Scott Treadway) and his long-time friend Leon (Preston Dyar). Bill, a lonely statistician, is either painfully shy or frozen in grief over the long ago loss of his one true love Justine. Leon, a philandering novelist, tries to get Bill to realize that there are plenty of women for the taking. The married Leon brags about the number of women who, at book signings, will invite him to come back to their place for “coffee and cake.” With a lecherous waggle of his eyebrows he says, “I’ve had lots of cake!”

In honor of Bill’s 50th birthday, Leon is on a mission to get his buddy hooked up with a woman, any woman. If no one else, then a prostitute will do. Bill’s objections are firm at first but then he vacillates between shy reluctance and the fantasy of uncomplicated, no-strings-attached sexual gratification. Seeing the chink in Bill’s armor, Leon reveals with a flourish a paper form he bought for the occasion from a mysterious Gypsy woman. The form is for a “love list,” ten blanks to be filled in with Bill’s idea of the perfect woman. Despite Bill’s frenzied objections, Leon wears him down and the list making begins.

The items they come up are no surprise. Bill wants “ambitious.” Leon wants “big boobs.” Bill wants “sense of humor.” Leon wants “sex every night without having to ask for it.” After an exhausting back-and-forth they finally come up with ten items, Leon sticks the paper in his pocket and they part ways for the night. Leon promises to find the Gypsy woman and turn the paper in to her so she can find Bill a match. He needn’t bother. The next day Bill comes home from work to find a beautiful stranger in his apartment who happens to be named Justine (Ryah Nixon); who happens to know everything there is to know about him; who happens to have every quality on his love list.

Any more and this review could turn into a spoiler. Not to worry, though, because after Justine walks in things happen in a predictable order. You know already know how it will go. Bill is in heaven, Leon is jealous of being replaced by a mystery woman. Justine is not quite perfect, so adjustments are made to the list. which, because Because of the magic involved, , these adjustments lead immediately to radical changes in Justine’s mood or character and, thus, to worse imperfections. For example, a longed-for character trait that seems like it would be charming such as “likes to sing,” becomes annoying when Justine won’t stop singing.

The Love List requires only three actors, and Nixon, Treadway and Dyar are consistently good. Under Lisa K. Bryant’s direction, the action on stage is always fluid, never stilted. Dialogue is rapid fire, especially between the men. Nixon was up to the challenge of a role that required her to change character on a dime. Her red-hot dress and cheap, blonde wig were perfect for her initial appearances on stage as they reflected her two-dimensional, dreamed-up persona. It was a nice touch to dress her later in a more conservative costume to show her potential to develop into a deeper, more complicated character.

The opening night crowd was in a good mood for The Love List. Patrons laughed frequently and at all the right places. They sometimes seemed to laugh before the punch line was delivered. That’s because we all know the story. The age-old quest for perfection in one’s mate never ends well. The sexes are a mystery to one another, but, if you believe Foster, men are no more shallow in what they are looking for in the perfect mate than women are. The play was only first produced fifteen years ago, but it seems dated. At one point Leon yells, “What in the name of Julie Andrews is going on?” Julie Andrews? Why not Christina Aguilera or Destiny’s Child, both of which were popular in 2003.

There is some redemption for Bill and Leon, but our middle-aged protagonists seem to grow less by the end of The Love List than Gary and Wyatt, the hormone driven teenagers, do by the end of Weird Science. Part of the problem as an audience member watching The Love List in 2018 is that the dynamics between the sexes have become much more complicated in just the past year. A radical renovation of the way men talk to and about women is taking place, at least in public. “Boys will be boys,” doesn’t cut it any more and even “Men are from Mars, and Women are from Venus” has been reduced to a quaint literary footnote in the context of increasingly fluid gender identities. In light of this, The Love List may make you a bit uneasy. But you will probably laugh anyway. The opening night audience gave the play and the Playhouse actors a standing ovation at the end. Let that be your guide.