In a romance-panic moment, Vincent (Matthew Dellapina) leaves Chicago for Paris, France, instead of meeting his fiancee Annie (Theo Allyn) for dinner. Shored up in an apartment in the 13th District with a suitcase of letters his grandfather Jacques (Genest) wrote to his grandmother Chloe (Bridget Connors) more than 40 years ago, Vincent learns something about romance and relationships. The apparition of Jacques (the character is either a manifestation of, or a glimpse into Vincent's imagination) poo-poos - with a French flair - Vincent's modern day excuses for his predicament, and expertly demonstrates how romance and wooing is done by a Frenchman. A visit by Annie's friend and her husband (Jenny Wales and Gregory Johnstone) shows their own quirky relationship, but is really just comic filler (via two very good performances). Annie shows up later (there must be some great Hotwire deals) and it's not a big surprise how things turn out.
On a most versatile and purposeful set by Judy Gailen, the relationship of Vincent and Annie becomes secondary to that of Jacques and Chloe. What Vincent and Annie have seems very tenuous, maybe even insubstantial. Can witnessing someone else's profound and passionate relationship (and another couple's off-beat one) really be enough to turn things around for them?
Genest shows all the charm and charisma that empower the well written character of Jacques. His depiction of the older couple's youthful romance is the heart of this play, well adorned by the idea that the lost art of honest and heartfelt letter writing is something that should be mourned in this age of high-tech but impersonal communication. Dellapina doesn't quite get us to root for Vincent; he creates a scattered character who frustrates his dead grandfather, and us as well. By adorning Vincent with a contemporary manner, playwright Smart has rendered him colorless. In her brief opportunity, Allyn develops Annie as a smart and grounded woman. I hope the match works.
At 90 minutes with no intermission, it's a pleasant excursion to The 13th of Paris, an appropriate Valentine's Day theatre choice.
The world premier production of The 13th of Paris runs through February 17 at City Theatre. For performance and ticket information, call 412.431.CITY (2489) or visit www.citytheatrecompany.org/.