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Lonely, I'm Not

Theatre Review by Matthew Murray - January 20, 2017

Adam Maggio and Rachel Goodgal
Photo by Will Ortiz

Falling in love is hard enough, but who knew that not falling in love could be such a struggle? Lonely, I'm Not, Paul Weitz's astringent comic romance, charts just such an unruly course for a man and a woman who revel in their own brokenness. Though both have decent excuses for feeling this way, they've constructed their lives so that they never have to worry about attraction or entanglements, which of course makes them prime targets when the right person—or is that the wrong person?—comes around. It's a standard-issue trope, to be sure, but nothing in Weitz's bewitching little play, or the jaunty West of 10th production of it that's playing through Sunday at the Workshop Theater's Jewel Box Theater, makes it seem like anything other than fresh, fizzy champagne.

Meeting expectations one moment and subverting them the next is the way of Hollywood, a realm Weitz has navigated ably as producer, director, and writer. (His current high-profile project is the Amazon series Mozart in the Jungle, but, among others, he also helmed the first American Pie movie.) It's no surprise, then, that the twists and turns in Lonely, I'm Not (which premiered in New York at Second Stage in 2012, with Olivia Thirlby and Topher Grace starring) are of the see-them-coming-but-don't-see-why variety. But what fascinates about this play is how well they work: We learn fairly early on that he, Porter (Adam Maggio), is a business wunderkind gone wrong and gone down, and she, Heather (Rachel Goodgal), is a workaholic executive who just happens to be blind, but what all this means—and where it's going—remains obscured until far later than you might suppose.

Suffice it to say, both have good reasons for being where they are (and where they aren't), just as they do for being together or being alone. Set up by their joint friend, Little Dog (Leon Morgan), their relationship develops as a series of tiny disasters through which a more successful love, however awkward, emerges. Their first real kiss, shared after literally bumping noses in Porter's attempt at a friendly goodnight gesture, has enough heat to keep us and them going, even as we see the other figures—Porter's deadbeat dad (Andrew Hamling) and too-clingy ex-wife (Hannah Yi), Heather's cynical mother (Margaret Curry)—who are working so hard to drag them down. Alas, as we see time and time again, especially during early scenes depicting the routines in their everyday lives (getting coffee when you find people unbearable, surviving a tricky office routine with even trickier coworkers), Porter and Heather don't need any help in that department.

Weitz structures the action as a series of super-short scenes with a lens that constantly shifts between its protagonists—yet another way of keeping us distracted and on edge. But the fluid nature of the theatre allows this to work without jaggedness, an aesthetic director Christopher Campbell-Orrock maintains. He takes this idea to the next level, too, making full use of the tiny playing space by ensuring that each scene all but trips over those before and after it, with nearly every piece of furniture in Wesley Cornwell's tight unit set doing double-duty in Porter and Heather's worlds. Although a couple are written in "split-screen" fashion (lighting designer Joshua Langman makes fine use of rapid-fire cross-fades), even those performed sequentially forever remind us that these two are occupying the same troubled Los Angeles at the same time, whether we (or they) like it or not.

If this intensely focused approach keeps the other characters and their performers from having much of an impact, it amplifies the chemistry between the leads, who play up the idea that their characters are trapped together physically as well as emotionally. You see in Maggio the dim flickers of tamped-down brilliance that define Porter, a life of infinite potential snuffed out by one unfortunate occurrence at an unfortunate time, and the unshakable optimism that has changed from a blessing to his greatest curse; his Porter is obviously a man who can't bear living in his own skin. Goodgal emphasizes Heather's confidence, pushing it to extremes that make it clear why this woman has landed in her own dead end, and deploys it as a full-body shield against the pain inflicted by everyone around her—her total comfort with who she is, Goodgal lays plain, is what's her undoing.

In other words, they're perfect for each other: Opposites attract, and all that. But it's the contention of Maggio, Goodgal, Campbell-Orrock, and Weitz that perfection has its limits, and the right set of wrong circumstances can test them like nothing else. If we're lucky, the bonds that matter most will endure, or at least show us what connections we really want and deserve. Maybe in a world that doesn't obey the edicts of silver-screen romantic comedies, that's enough—or maybe it's better. Lonely, I'm Not, on the page and in this production, lets you decide for yourself, a responsibility you won't mind given how ingratiating, affecting, and honest the evidence on all sides is.

Lonely, I'm Not
Through January 22
Jewel Box Theatre, 312 West 36th Street, 4th Floor
Tickets online and current Performance Schedule: BrownPaperTickets