BOTTOM LINE: A charming and entertaining series of two-person vignettes about finding and sustaining heterosexual love.
Playwright/actor Wendy Herlich’s An Evening of Awkward Romance, a collection of sketches about strange encounters of the romantic kind, could have been cringe-inducing. That it is not, is a testament to Herlich’s fast-paced, hilarious, playful, and often-poignant writing. As the star of the show, she and partner Stefan Schick (who also performs with the improv group Stray) demonstrate their ability to transform from goofy eleven-year-old kids to adults who’ve seen more than their share of disappointment and heartbreak.
It’s a successful mix: clever, evocative, and tender.
In the opening skit, Herlich and Schick are coworkers whose job involves proofreading ads created by credit card companies and banks. Lovers of language, they take their task ever so seriously and find meaning — and maybe, just maybe, the spark of personal passion — in fixing misplaced punctuation, dangling participles, and misspelled words on the many pages they’re given. The scene is both sweet and hopeful.
A later segment, set in the waiting area of Finnegan’s Funeral Home, introduces two social misfits: A gawky woman who thought she was meeting a blind date at a restaurant only to find herself in a memorial chapel, and a workaholic, would-be mourner who doesn’t quite know what to feel about the passing of a childhood friend with whom he’d lost touch. Their inept flirtation is proof positive that grandma was right. There is someone for everyone!
Other scenes — some projected onto a screen to allow for set and costume changes — showcase Herlich and Schick as a pair of barely-pubescent sixth graders who are struggling to understand sexual attraction, parental discord, and burgeoning romantic rumblings. Their ability to bounce between being little kids competing to see who can drink ice-cold soda faster and budding adolescents is amusing and provocative. What’s more, while An Evening of Awkward Romance is not in any way political, the scene provides an understated platform for what happens when there is no sex education or when it is offered too late to have an impact.
Only one sketch involves a long-term relationship, and in it, both parties are desperate to figure out what has gone wrong. Although they still love one another, mountains of laundry and childrearing responsibilities have taken their toll. Is love enough, they wonder, or is divorce inevitable? Can they recapture their youthful joie de vivre and sexual energy, or is it time to move on and look for someone new?
While the questions are heavy, An Evening of Awkward Romance is anything but. Light and laugh-out-loud funny, Herlich and Schick have terrific chemistry. Their ability to play versatile characters is impressive and their repartee is witty and engaging. Somewhere off-stage, Cupid is smiling.
(An Evening of Awkward Romance plays through February 26, 2012 at The Tank, 151 West 46th Street, 8th Floor. Performances are February 18th, 19th, 25th, and 26th at 7PM. Tickets are $15 and are available at brownpapertickets.com.)