Regional Reviews: Albuquerque/Santa Fe
I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change
Also see Mark's review of The Big Heartless
Each vignette runs on its own song with a cast of two to four characters. The Desert Rose Playhouse production uses the same four actorstwo men, two womenin different roles through the 29 mini-plays. While there is no continuity of character, there is a theme that runs through the piece. Act one covers the male/female battleground of dating and relationships, and it ends with a wedding. Act two brings babies into the relationship mess. We move from happy marriage through divorce. At the end, we see a widow and widower dating.
The second act is far more serious than the first, partly because marriages become hard work when children and divorce raise their thorny heads. While there are moments of levity through act two, the seriousness of life is elevated. Still, the songs and stories are catchy, even when the humor moves into dark territory.
The power in this production is centered in the acting and singing chops of the cast, which includes Karen Byers, Christopher Chase, Evelyn Coffing, and Bryan Durden. We've seen most of these actors paired up over the years at the Desert Rose. Chase and Durden have carried Tuesdays with Morrie on stage more than a couple times. Byers and Chase have been dueling lovers in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (which also included Durden), Constellations, and Poison. Coffing was a stand-out in last year's Beehive. These actors are comfortable with each other and it shows in their willingness to be vulnerable on stage. Excellent work from all four.
While each is strong individually, the foursome jell into something larger than the collected pieces. Other productions of this musical may have hit all the notes and were delivered with few flaws, but this productionco-directed by Shiela Freed and Michael Montroyslips the play into a new dimension. In the past, I thought the musical was cute, but I didn't know it was brilliant. Here, I kept wondering if these directors and actors were bringing in new songs I hadn't heard in earlier productions. But that wasn't it. The clarity and power of this production takes it up a few notches.
Two live onstage musicians keep the accompaniment fresh and bright. Ben Jacobsen covers keyboards, while Natasha Coffing delivers beautiful violin work. Last year, Jacobsen was the central musician in the Desert Rose production of Beehive. While he did a nice job in that production (his first), his work in I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change shows significant growth.
The set is simple: two levels of stage, with the musicians in the background, two chairs, and two cafe tables. The costumes are toned down. There is a bit of choreography, by Karen Byers, and it's excellent, particularly the oddball dance of chairs and tables in the last song.
The heart of this production is in the emotions the cast delivers, from tenderness to yearning, from frustration to rage. The singing voices aim to embody the emotions with no showboating. The beauty of the voiceand there is strong singing heretakes a backseat to the ability to deliver the heightened or crushing emotions of the moment. This is an absolutely lovely production.
I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change, through March 17, 2019, at the Desert Rose Playhouse, 6921 Montgomery Blvd NE, Albuquerque NM. Performances are on Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 2:00 p.m. Tickets are $25 for general admission and $20 for students, seniors, and ATC members. For reservations, visit desertroseplayhouse.net.