Dallas — Love is a wild and risky business—seemingly made for the hapless young who just fall into a joyous state and rev forward, heedless of any possible heartache from such a thrilling beginning. But in Romance in D, James Sherman’s sentimental comedy staged by One Thirty Productions at Bath House Cultural Center, youth is more a state of mind than a date on a driver’s license. And nobody is all that young.
Charles (a shyly flirtatious David Meglino) and Isabel (Catherine DuBord, a thinly disguised glamour puss in glasses) are city neighbors, sharing a wall in identical apartments in Chicago. Their first meeting, in a touching and bizarre opening scene, is less than auspicious, and they’re both guarded loners.
Charles is a neat and orderly musicologist intent on researching “the universal musical structures” in Leonard Bernstein’s scores. His only visitor is his doting Jewish mom (an adventurous Gene Raye Price), who brings a weekly supply of chicken soup and an implicit wish that her single son find somebody else to watch over him.
Isabel, newly separated from her faithless college prof husband, is a tightly wound poet who’s just lost her crummy data-entry job at a law firm. Her apartment is stacked with unopened boxes and one lamp. Her affable, affectionate dad (charming, made-for-matinee-idol John S. Davies) is afraid his high-strung, emotionally fraught daughter can’t fend for herself.
The two neighbors cautiously get acquainted after a bumpy start. Praising music as the best form for communicating feeling, Charles declares, “Words are useless.” Isabel wryly replies, “I’m a poet.” Somehow, the two get on and gradually trust each other enough to at least borrow an egg or get some dinner. Charles even sets Isabel’s newest sonnet to music right before our eyes on his handy keyboard. Isabel is touched—but not physically.
Their 60-something parents meet in the hall, start talking favorite music and movies, and discover they may well have been neighbors when they were young and living in New York. Isabel’s dad assures Charles’ s mom he’s learned to roll with what’s going on—and it’s made him rich enough to own a second house in Bimini. Nice. “When I was growing up, I didn’t have issues—we were too poor,” he says. Before you can say, “Take the A Train,” the two oldsters are dancing to the music and laughing at their good luck in meeting each other. The packed house of seniors at the Friday matinee were laughing and applauding the budding romance, as well.
When the holiday season rolls around, Charles and Mom are celebrating with her special potato pancakes and a menorah, while in the adjoining apartment, Isabel and Dad are sipping tea beside a little table-top Christmas tree. Of course, Dad invites everybody to a fancy restaurant, and for the first time we see dowdy Isabel tricked out in a stunning green dinner dress. Something romantic’s gotta happen is an outfit like that. It does—but not before a few more touching scenes and one hilarious comic bump in the road.
The fun of this super symmetrical romantic comedy is in the thoughtful performances of the cast, directed by B. J. Cleveland with playful timing and a light touch. Dave Tenney’s two-handed set, with apartments mirroring each other makes the action in some scenes revealing, especially when Charles and Isabel have the same after-reaction to a goodbye. Sherman’s script deals briefly with some serious mental health issues, and DuBord’s hyper and aggressively intense Isabel make us see the problems she’s confronting in getting her feet on the ground.
Romance in D reiterates the warming thought that the young at heart have the most fun, whatever their calendar age. Certainly, the audience I watched the show with was having a lovely, laughter-filled afternoon.