My first reaction to hearing a show is composed of a bunch of little vignettes about relationships is a bit of an “oh, brother.” Someone didn’t want to write a plot so they decided a bunch of short disparate scenes is good enough for a mainstage show. Right? Ugh.
Well, not quite. Perfect Love has an ace up its sleeve: It’s written and directed by local thespian Talia Pura, whose work has always impressed me and who could be one of the most prolific creators we have in town right now. I figured it probably would be better than mediocre.
Pura manages the second-floor black box at Warehouse 21, a stage that has its charms—and its drawbacks. The “backstage” is simply behind a curtain, so occasionally whispers from actors on deck came through to the audience. The light board has a mind of its own and, Pura says, despite working perfectly at dress rehearsals, opening night featured a few nonsensical light cues with no human to blame. And there’s this weird thing where the floor shakes and wobbles unnervingly. (If you’ve been in there, you know what I mean.)
Despite these distractions, not to mention a premise that had me leery, Perfect Love came through to be quite a delightful little production.
The tight cast of four really has it together. Each actor plays multiple roles with the aid of wigs, costumes, accents and sometimes cartoonish characterizations, to general success.
Admittedly, starting the show off by diving in with a nearly insufferable manic pixie dream girl from actress Amanda Cazares made me want to put ice picks in my eyes, wondering what else the night had in store—but if you too are exhausted by people who wear knit beanies inside and talk too fast, don’t worry. Cazares’ successive performances keep taking unexpected directions and show great range, and end up being some of the best in the show.
Range, indeed, is the important factor here. Depending on the vignette, the audience alternately hates or adores every actor in turn. Everyone is at fault at one point or another, and the liquefied actors always keep it moving—I was never caught up on a previous character once a scene changed, a testament to their dedication to each small role.
What kept this show floating above the realm of cheese and cliche, perhaps, was Pura’s writing, which anchored the characters in the real world. Just when it seemed like the script might be drifting off into been-done-before territory, something nuanced yet universal made the body onstage undeniably human again.
Take, for example, the scene in which Pura is breaking up with her side piece to whom she is a side piece (Hamilton Turner). He’s inconsolable (and insufferable), and after much whinging on his part, Pura finally begs, “Don’t torture yourself.”
Maybe I’m showing my hand, here, but I think virtually everyone has uttered those words to an ex—and it’s not always because we care that they’re torturing themselves. Sometimes it’s because we just want them to shut up and quit being manipulative. Sorry, not sorry.
Similarly, in a scene between Cazares and Tyler Nunez (in which Cazares evokes a hilarious and bawdy South American girlfriend), Cazares picks up a bike helmet full of twinkling lights, making fun of it. Nunez admits that it’s laser treatment for hair loss, which will probably hit close to home for anyone who’s dealt with single men in the last few years. (Hot take: Many men over 30 are losing their hair, and most people who date men over 30 don’t care. You’re making it awkward, guys.) Further, the bike helmet really didn’t factor into the larger plot of the scene at all—it was just a zeitgeisty aside to bring the scene further into the real world, and it worked.
A few lines here and there felt like improv. I’m not sure they were, but particularly a few asides from Nunez made the audience feel right at ease. (His referring to Turner as “papa bear” made me laugh out loud, and it came so naturally I have no idea if it was scripted or not.) The comfort with which the actors inhabit their characters, too, makes slow revelations possible: They seem like average people for about 90 seconds, until we realize they’re either scumbags or particularly awesome. The scenes often don’t go the way you predict, yet somehow still feel utterly plausible and never jump the shark.
Refreshing, too, was a light hand in the script. Pura explores issues of sexuality and intergenerational affairs, but never beats us over the head with get-woke platitudes. One recurring scene, acted out four times by different actors, features the androgynous names Alex, Chris, Jessie and Pat. Indeed, throughout the show, the actors could be any gender or lack thereof, and the basic human interactions would remain just as strong and poignant. Even a scene that specifically discusses sexuality, in which Cazares cries because her high school sweetheart came out as gay, features Pura and Turner as consoling parents who both are emotionally intelligent and highly realistic. And funny. It’s all funny, really.
Of course, amidst the comedy, there are larger lessons at play. The most obvious, of course, is that no relationship is perfect. Blah blah blah.
But I left with a stronger impression from a scene in which Cazares, a new mom, shuts down her own mother’s relentless parenting advice: Perhaps the only perfect love we can have is the love of ourselves, and sometimes that looks like standing up and setting boundaries. And maybe those boundaries are set at the expense of other people who we also love.
But in the end, you gotta remember that you are the only person you are guaranteed to live with for the rest of your life. Might as well love them.
7:30 pm Thursdays-Saturdays Dec. 13-22; 2 pm Sundays Dec. 16 and 23. $15-$25. Warehouse 21, 1614 Paseo de Peralta, 989-4423; tickets here.