Dallas — The freshness threatens to burst forth in flavors that wet the chin as much as the mouth. It’s not a refined affair, but for those with a certain passion, it’s not to be missed. Some things in life are worth getting messy over.
Theatre happens to be one of them. When a play is ripe and ready, J. Alfred Prufrock be damned, Echo Theatre dares to eat it.
Right now at the Bath House Cultural Center, they have a “workshop” production (don’t kid yourself: it’s a fully fledged production) of the winner of their second Big Shout Out International Playwriting Contest: The Adventures of Flo and Greg by Briana Pozner. They picked it from more than 70 submissions, and it’s easy to see why. Pozner’s hilarious and heartfelt first play captures the risks, requirements and rewards of romance.
Set designer Randy Bonifay creates a white window-boxed bedroom for Flo (Chandler Ryan) that conveys her oppressive orderliness. The second story retreat is so little girl safe that the hand that smacks the window scares us as much as it does her. Greg (Matt Holmes), an amateur spider superhero, is seeking aid and immediate refuge.
Flo triumphs over her timidity long enough to determine that Greg, though deranged, is basically benign and lets him hide under her desk. While she is overcoming the shock and he is recovering from his vigilante vigil, they come to a sort of understanding of each other’s oddities. She hasn’t left her apartment in 18 months and he works as a part-time un-doer of wrong. The cast moves quickly through these passages, though director Terri Ferguson has clearly worked to give them shape. Playwright Pozner has packed the play with such richness that some of the juices must run onto your shirt.
Over the course of the play the two find agreement in unique ways that won’t bear the spoiling here. Though the Silver Linings Playbook trope of two crazies making a match is in play here, Pozner has gone farther into a romance of ridiculousness that harkens back to the George C. Scott movie There Might Be Giants. By entering solemnly into the other person’s fantasy, the tension between the couple is preserved for us and for them. Like playing pretend with a child who believes the floor is lava, saving them from the sofa is an act of real bravery and inspires real devotion.
Ryan is beguiling as the shut-in, Flo, but her big, batting eyes can also convey real terror, too. Holmes, though equally charismatic, seems less interested in winning the audience’s favor. His characterization seems to say, “There be real demons here,” adding a needed extra tension to the rom-com beginning of their relationship. The real payoff comes later when Flo begins to see how far down the rabbit hole Greg has gone. These two actors make as dynamic a duo as their characters could ever hope. Costume designer Melissa Perkins, no doubt aided by props designers Lynn Mauldin and Rebekka Koepke, answer their commitment with costumes as fun and flighty as they are.
Director Ferguson has solved much of the delicate dance of mad romance presented by Pozner. The young cast does fantastic work balancing their emotional rawness with the customary comedic precision required by these proceedings. All of that is second to the sudden bursts of Pozner’s pen. At the end of a satisfying back and forth, she’ll button with a phrase that hangs in the air with the sharp vividness of stained glass. In the section where Flo describes her problems to Greg, she ends with, “And then my mind flattens out, my stomach gets hungry and threatens to eat my soul.”
That sort of language lurking in an otherwise unassumingly lively, entertaining romantic comedy make for a fresh unexpected delight. (Oh, and one of the funniest moments concerning a printer ever staged.)
When it comes to The Adventures of Flo and Greg, this love song is peachy.