TO BE QUITE HONEST, WHEN JON FERGUSON OFFERED A SYNOPSIS of this latest show in an interview a few months back, the un-kissed mouth of this black-hearted cynic recoiled with a resounding gag reflex (and I suspect I wasn’t the only one). Ferguson is in love, in case you havent heard. The objects of his affection: Megan Odell, a performer with the noteworthy local troupe Live Action Set (and whom he met after a Fringe Festival performance several years ago), and their brand new bundle of joy, a baby boy. The sensation is so overwhelming, Ferguson explains in the interview, it has compelled him to create this showone that unapologetically and without a trace of irony bears a syrupy title Youre My Favorite Kind of Prettywhich explores the various stages of romantic relations.
And so an old-fashioned love story was born, a tale unburdened by contemporary fears of cliché or of sentimentalism. The scene unfolds in a simplified universe with only three performers: Ferguson plays the resident, if fairly humble, Lothario. His character, who goes by the somewhat emasculating name of Heathcliff, expends considerable effort hunting for rabbits. The lovely Sara Richardson, a performer who is at once physically beautiful and proficient in Fergusons preferred brand of bendy theatrics, plays Miranda, a bunny slipper-clad domestic goddess-slash-girlfriend who lives at the end of a rainbow in a prim, suburban rambler. The set design, composed of, among other things, gold-lined cumulus clouds, is reminiscent of a My Little Pony cartoon, and was inspired by the paintings of the local artist Jennifer Davis. Finally, Jason Ballweber capably juggles several roles, including that of Mirandas ex-boyfriend, the moon (yes, that moon), Cupid, and Mirandas New-Age, Muumuu-sporting neighbor. In the process of enacting all these roles, Ballweber gives a series of comic, physical performances that bring to mind the local theater legend Luverne Seifert. Strangely, none of these characters appears to be employed in fact, they tend to no responsibility other than their personal relations.
It is, you see, an un-intellectual showor one that springs straight from the gut, in any case. Still, the subject matter is compelling and universal, even iflet’s face itfor serious artists it is quite unfashionable to waste precious brain cells and creative talent on matters of mere romance. But love remains, nevertheless, the dominant subject of our heart-to-hearts, tearful exchanges, and bantering about at bars and cafes. And, if youre not in the mood to experience the show on this visceral, empathic level, you might still appreciate an opportunity to dissect the uglier, libido-killing aspects of partnership (repetition, farting), as they, too, are explored. Its the rare production that is enjoyable equally by mirth-seekers and those in want of a more nourishing, thought-provoking experience. And this is it! Bring your teenaged daughter. Bring your brainiac co-worker. Or, perhaps, bring your own sweetheart. (You might not want to bring, say, your prudish grandmother, however, as the show is frank about premarital sex.) If your friends and family dont feel anything at all while viewing this show, well then, youll just have to ask them: What can they feel?
The storyline is as traditional as it gets, but with some modern flourishes. Boy meets girl. Boy dispenses with humdrum courtship rituals and immediately enters the girls bedroom to the tune of Marvin Gayes Lets Get It On. And, so on. You’re My Favorite Kind of Pretty gets away with such unabashed sincerity in this Colbert Report world by indulging the more ridiculous aspects of falling in lovefrom the clumsy things a love-struck person says while attempting a grand romantic gesture, to the irony behind the moment when “How Deep Is Your Love?” becomes, suddenly, palatable (which perhaps not coincidentally, is the same moment when, finally, youve discovered someone with whom to slow-dance).
I have to admit: I am a little irritated by the speaking voice Richardson adopts as Miranda. Hers is a lilt that rings hollow, without a trace of smarts. But these characters are clowns, after allbuffoons stripped to their emotional, child-like cores. Both Ferguson and Richardson have invested considerable study in both clowning and physical theater, so maybe this whiff of vapidity should be forgiven. Tolerance would be easier to come by but for the fact that, unlike Miranda, Fergusons Heathcliff is imbued with nuance; he has a bold and confident voice but also gets to articulate his thoughts with tenderness and insight.
Can we start over? chirps Miranda after the couple has had a spat.
No, answers Heathcliff assuredly. Lets continue.
Even with these reservations, by the end of the show, even this loveless killjoy (who is, occasionally, perhaps too much on the lookout for offending gender stereotypes) is left longing for her teenaged years, when love for another human being was so powerful as to eclipse the world entire. If you havent felt the thrall of young romance in a good long while, youll definitely want to see this show. It could be your last chance.
About the writer: Christy DeSmith is a former editor at The Rake. She is also a freelance theater critic and was recently named an affiliated writer for 2007-08 by the Theatre Communications Group and American Theatre magazine.