Romantic Comedy Explores the Eccentric Mindset

Romantic Comedy - ACT-CO Nomination (2012)

The Orangeville Citizen (March, 2012)

ROMANTIC COMEDY, currently on stage at the Century Church Theatre in Hillsburgh, centers around Jason (Frank Rempel) and Phoebe (Stephanie Baird), their tempestuous partnership as playwrights and their equally firey personal relationship.Bernard Slade’s Romantic Comedy, currently on stage at the Century Church Theatre in Hillsburgh, is an entertaining study of the eccentric, creative mind and what makes it tick.

It is the tale of playwrights Jason and Phoebe, who collaborate on both successful and failed Broadway productions over an 11-year period and, against the odds, fall in love.

It could be safely assumed that Jason Carmichael will be among the most challenging roles that actor Frank Rempel will undertake.

He has the daunting task of garnering some audience sympathy for a character that is a narcissistic, insufferable egomaniac, at his worst, and a self-serving manipulator when he’s on his best behaviour.

It would likely be easier for Mr. Rempel to present Jason Carmichael as a caricature of your typical loud pompous ass. That, however, would not do justice to the true depth of Mr. Slade’s plays.

To his credit, Mr. Rempel does not overplay the part. Instead, he delivers his lines with a level-headed intensity, allowing the audience to relax and make an attempt to like this jerk.

In an interview, Mr. Rempel indicated that he sees Jason as someone who redeems himself. “Your first opinion is that he is arrogant, self-centered and opinionated,” said Mr. Rempel. “Yet, there’s a transformation, from year to year, to where you see the selfless side of Jason.”

Stephanie Baird admirably presents Phoebe Craddock as the naïve Vermont school teacher who Carmichael takes under his wing as a writing partner. As Phoebe rises to prominence as a writer, Ms. Baird injects the proper maturity into her performance, while being mindful to bring across the basic goodness that prevents success from going to Phoebe’s head.

An indication that a performance has succeeded is when audience members have questions about the characters’ innate motivations.

Ms. Baird left this reviewer asking: Is this the true, unconditional love where Phoebe is willing to accept Jason’s many personality flaws, or is she a romantic basket case hopelessly addicted to the man’s fame and brilliance?

A thumbs-up goes to Martin Worsnop for his portrayal of Leo Janowitz, the reporter Phoebe marries while she’s on the rebound from a split with Jason.

When he first enters the stage, one is immediately underwhelmed by his wooden performance.

It soon becomes apparent that Mr. Worsnop is being stiff on purpose, in order to capture the essence of Leo. The man’s dedication to professional objectivity has morphed his personality into a series of studied and rehearsed subroutines.

If Leo was teleported to the set of Star Trek: The Next Generation, he would be the perfect protegé for Data, the android loaded with artificial intelligence, but incapable of human emotion.

Veteran community theatre actress Jennifer Bartrum effortlessly executes the role of Blanche, Jason’s saucy assistant who puts up with the man, year after year.

That’s because she is essentially as shallow as he is but, unlike Jason, Blanche is honest about it.

Finally, kudos to newcomer Lindsey Papp for her sympathetic portrayal of Allison St. James, the woman from a wealthy background who becomes Jason’s long suffering wife and mother of his two children.

All in all, Romantic Comedy is not recommended for fans of rollicking musicals or physical slapstick comedy. For those interested in a gently humorous look into the idiosyncrasies of the eccentric soul, it is certainly worth a look.

Show times in this final weekend are Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2:30 p.m. Tickets are $18 and available either at the door or by calling the box office at 519-855-4586.