By Brad Fraser. Directed by Katrina Dunn. A Touchstone Theatre production. In the Cultch Historic Theatre on Thursday, September 22. Continues until October 1
It’s not often that you see a professional production that’s been so badly directed. Act 2 of Touchstone Theatre’s mounting of True Love Lies improves considerably, but Act 1 is a mess.
In Brad Fraser’s witty script, 20-year-old Madison applies for a serving job at a restaurant, only to find that David, the owner, used to be her dad’s lover. The homo past of Kane, the dad, comes as a shock to Madison and her younger brother Royce. On the other hand, Carolyn, their mom, knows all about it, and, just to prove how grown-up she is, she invites David to dinner. David’s erotically charged presence does fissionable things to the nuclear family, especially when Madison gets the hots for him.
The script’s not perfect. David is annoyingly instructive; as he delivers mini lectures about the advisability of strategic lying in relationships, it’s hard not to see him as Fraser’s mouthpiece. And the playwright has created so many scenes involving meals that the setting and clearing of plates can start to feel like the show’s raison d’être.
Still, this is a very, very funny play. Royce's stunned response to the news about his father’s romantic past is, “You’re a fudgepacker?” And, when Madison expresses her guilt over a sexual dalliance, David advises, “That’s how we adults remember our mistakes.”
But Dunn has badly miscast Andrew McIlroy as David and Greg Armstrong-Morris as Kane. For the show to work, David has to be a charismatically sophisticated top, but McIlroy delivers a limp-wristed portrait. And Armstrong-Morris’s Kane is so obviously gay it’s ridiculous to think that anyone would be surprised that he’s had sex with a man. The script takes pains to establish Kane’s sexual interest in his wife, but Dunn completely undermines that intention by having her actors play most of the sexual scenes between Kane and Carolyn as a hissing, growling parodies of lust.
The biggest error, though, is the relentless pace in the first act. The lack of rhythmic variety flattens the comedy, and the speed and irritatingly perky tone make it impossible for the actors to establish the characters’ sophistication or the emotional depth of their relationships.
Thankfully, things settle down in Act 2, but Dunn continues to make vulgar choices. In the script, Carolyn’s move toward greater independence is presented without glamour, but Dunn spins it with ill-placed uplift. And the director gives the play’s ambiguous ending a reductive resolution.
Katharine Venour (Carolyn) and Lara Gilchrist (Madison) manage to slip in some resonantly honest moments, and Anton Lipovetsky, who plays Royce, continues to prove that he’s one of the most watchable young actors in town.
Mostly though, this production, including Michael Rinaldi’s sound design, strains to be hip and fails.