By Jenn McKee
The world can be an overwhelming place, and in John Kolvenbach’s comic drama, “Love Song,” now playing at Planet Ant Theatre, a brother and sister adopt starkly different strategies for dealing with the chaos: Joan (Annabelle Young), a no-nonsense businesswoman, aims to control and tame it, while eccentric, possibly unhinged Beane (Ty Mitchell) simply detaches himself from it.
The contrast between them is evident in an early scene, which features Joan and her contrarian husband, Harry (Stephen Blackwell), sparring over Joan’s firing of yet another young intern. When eccentric, lonely Beane enters the fray, he hilariously thwarts Harry’s attempts to administer a personality test by earnestly questioning the questions.
The scene showcases Kolvenbach’s humor at its sharp, absurdist best and made me laugh out loud repeatedly (something too few comedies achieve these days). While the sometimes-overwritten scenes that follow struggle to live up to this high bar, and although “Love Song”‘s main story ends up being a pretty familiar one, there’s almost enough sweetness, whimsy and laughter in Planet Ant’s production to make up for the script’s deficits.
For the event that changes Beane, and by extension Joan and Harry, is a robbery committed by Molly (Sarah Switanowski). Beane has almost no possessions, so after Molly gathers the few paltry, basic items in his apartment, she waits in the dark to confront him and criticize his lack of sentimentality and attachment. Strangely, a relationship develops between the two, making Beane suddenly more talkative and present in the world around him.
At one point, Molly says, “Death to literalism,” and given the description above, patrons should take this pronouncement to heart in regard to “Love Song.” There are definitely things that will give you pause along the way, but if you give yourself over to the play, you will likely be charmed. So much so, in fact, that when a revelatory moment rings all too familiar, it breaks your heart, anyway.
Of course, when a production connects with an audience like that, making a script better and more affecting than it might otherwise be, you must largely credit the person at the helm – in this instance, director Inga Wilson (with assistant director Rob Pantano). Wilson, for instance, wisely makes sure Harry and Joan’s initial bickering doesn’t convey a vindictive, toxic couple beyond help, but rather a husband and wife worn down by the complacent day-to-day-ness of their lives together. And when Beane and Molly deliver an over-long, self-consciously poetic account of the night of their first meeting, Wilson provides them with enough physical movement to make the exchange more watchable, and thus more palatable.
Mitchell is the beating heart of the production, making Beane a wide-eyed, lonely and sympathetic eccentric we root for. When love causes Beane to essentially “wake up” and engage with the world, Mitchell conveys a sense of mind-blowing, child-like wonder that’s both appealing and charmingly palpable. Plus, the tenderness of a moment he shares with Young, as the play nears the end of its (intermissionless) 90-minute run, provides the production with a more-than-worthy payoff. Blackwell’s fantastic comic delivery, meanwhile, earns some of the night’s biggest laughs and helps set the right tone at the play’s outset.
Tommy LeRoy provides the production’s bare bones, easily converted scenic design, while Kevin Barron’s lighting design and Emily Tipton’s costume design help to subtly underscore the distinct worlds of these characters. Dyan Bailey, finally, offers a fittingly quirky, sometimes-haunting aural backdrop between scenes.
So although Kolvenbach’s “Love Song,” as a script, features the occasional wrong note and isn’t exactly original, kudos to Planet Ant Theatre for finding a way to make it affecting nonetheless.
Planet Ant Theatre, 2357 Caniff, Hamtramck. Friday-Sunday through Oct. 8. $25. 313-365-4948. http://www.planetant.com