Shhh. Don't tell Hollywood, but playwrights Dianna A Lewis and J H Kaufman just succeeded in finding a new twist on that most lucrative genre, the romantic comedy. And it's even funny. It's the Theaterwork staged premiere of Pangloss & Pennypocket. ***image1***Coming out into the night after a performance of P&P induces a desire to roll down the windows and blast the Puccini, though the play itself is sensibly opposed to grandiose love duets while somehow inspiring the same moist-eyed delirium.
The play opens in a decidedly The Mirror Has Two Faces vein. Pennypocket (Katherine Hanscom) is a children's book writer. Dr. Pangloss (Paul Walsky) is a syndicated health columnist. Two-thirds of the play takes place via e-mail, so each character has a respective Type B or Type A office on either side of the stage. Hers is all comforting afghans, fuzzy bunnies and Hillary Clinton photos. His is Sharper Image furniture and a framed shot of Ronald Reagan. They are both middle-aged and alone. Unlike Barbra Streisand and Jeff Bridges, Pangloss and Pennypocket do not enter into their Great Experiment willingly, but are blackmailed into working together on a novel by their editor. It is to be a love story. Despite her kiddy lit career, Pennypocket has an unsentimental nature and a mouth like a sailor. Pangloss, on the other hand, is a dyed-in-the-wool romantic. Their conflicting personalities make it difficult for them to collaborate on a love narrative. Now, unlike The Mirror Has Two Faces (sorry, Babs), this is where it gets creative.
The writers each create a character. Pangloss writes the actions of his character, Aubrey (Nicholas Masson), while Pennypocket writes for her Nora (Elizabeth Calvert). The meeting of the characters is written and rewritten in hilarious turns of each writer's whim. Finally, the characters get fed up with the bickering and one-upmanship of their creators and, in a Pirandellian twist, decide to step out of the narrative and show the writers a thing or two about love.
"Bitchiness is what keeps charm from becoming cloying," says Pennypocket in one of her frequently delicious lines. And she couldn't be more right. P&P does not suffer the fate of cutesy-ness, but keeps a clear-headed alertness about itself and its subject. The plot is predictable, but that is no concern of a love story. The concern of a love story is: What is its attitude towards love? The key seems to be this: proximity. Love is not something mythical or divine that can only occur between two people once in a lifetime. That view of love is overwhelming, terrifying and, to these characters, crippling. The message is that love is simply the ability to see the humanity in another person and, most importantly, it's always right in front of you. Now, isn't that romantic?