By Bridgette M. Redman
There is no comedic food so rich as the feast provided by the tension and attraction between the sexes. The topic has been providing meat for comedians, authors, playwrights, screenwriters and storytellers of all other ilk since stories first began to be told.
This is the meal that Stormfield Theatre prepares for its audience in these weeks leading up to Valentine’s Day. The two-person show “Romantic Fools” by Rich Orloff is part stand-up, part vaudeville and part light comedy dealing with the way men and women relate to each other. The Stormfield production, directed by Rob Roznowski, presented 11 of the 12 sketches Orloff wrote.
Each sketch features Roger Ortman and Lisa Sodman playing a variety of men and women who can barely figure out how to relate to each other, but all completely unwilling to give up the hope of forming a rewarding relationship. From the one-liners at the beginning, each makes it clear that as frustrated as they get with the behavior of the opposite gender, they still like that gender.
Sodman’s characters were all very similar in movement and voice, changing only in emotion and intensity. While sketch comedy often demands great changes in character, Sodman instead created an everywoman, one that could fit easily into every situation and was instantly recognizable no matter what her circumstances.
Ortman was more varied in the characters he presented, with his primitive man and Stepford husband presenting polar opposites surrounded by a range of other characters. He was most effective as the sensitive type, confused and overwhelmed by how his attempts to do the right things invariably backfired. His diction caused some confusion in one sketch when the adjective “dull” kept coming out as “doll,” putting a whole different meaning into his requests until Sodman’s character clarified.
Scenic designers Kirk Domer and Zac Campbell give the two actors a lot to play with in a set that works for all 11 sketches. Stage right is the man’s domain and stage left is the woman’s, each given a dressing table surrounded by furnishings and props that let them make the changes they need to become the different characters in each story. The middle of the stage forms the meeting places where a few moving blocks can create the furnishings each story calls for.
Costumer Holly Iller provided plenty of simple items that allowed for partial costume changes to help set the scenes and give the characters individuality. These simple pieces worked well, especially the distinctive ones such as the wig of curlers, the taped glasses and the cave-man drape.
There is a great deal of charm and humor found within each sketch, light comedies that elicit laughter because the situations are either familiar or delicious exaggerations of the familiar. There was plenty of discussion of sex, and even some behind the scenes panting and groping, but the presentation stayed rather tame in both language and on-stage behavior. It was titillating without ever being pornographic.
The sketches played with different forms of comedy, drawing inspiration from such sources as the Marx Brothers, Monty Python and late-night stand-ups. A “Who’s on First” variation takes place at an orgy with a woman trying to learn the names of the different players. The first half skipped from situation to situation while the second half began to weave a single story together. It was in this second half where there started to be an authenticity to the relationships and the humor began to ring more true.
Sodman and Ortman create a gentle night of comedy that starts with their characters expressing frustration over relationships and ends sweetly, waving the audience goodbye with optimism and hope.
Stormfield Theatre, 201 Morgan Lane, Lansing. Thursday-Sunday through Feb. 19. For adults only. $18-$24. 517-488-8450. http://www.stormfieldteatre.org