By Jennifer Brown Stone and David S. Stone; Directed by David S. Stone
Produced by Merlin Productions
Off Broadway, New Play
Runs through 6.14.14
The Lion Theatre at Theatre Row, 410 West 42nd Street
by Adrienne Urbanski on 5.31.14
Hunter Canning and Susan Louise O'Connor in The Diorama. Photo by Jon Kandel.
BOTTOM LINE: This romantic comedy, centered around a quirky artist, is a bit predictable and formulaic, but the lead actors make it worth watching.
I am guessing that playwrights Jennifer Brown Stone and David S. Stone (also the director) both watch a lot of romantic comedies, as their play The Diorama has all the trappings of a typical rom-com film down to the easy listening movie soundtrack love songs that fill the production. However, while this play has a typical romantic comedy formula, the quirkiness of its central character, its moments of poignancy, and strong performances from the actors all elevate it just above the average offerings at the Cineplex.
The play opens with the flighty and eccentric Cecily (Susan Louise O’Connor) squatting in her office at the museum where she works as an art restorer. While the overweight maintenance man Denny (Bob Greenberg), who likes to use pasta dishes as metaphors for lovers, has his eye out for her, security isn’t too thrilled and Cecily’s attempt to avoid paying rent causes her to lose her job. Unemployed and homeless, she goes to her sister Janey’s (Melissa Maclead Herion) doorstep begging to be taken in. As an overly organized, type A lawyer, Janey is afraid of letting Cecily and her quirkiness into her neat and tidy life. Apparently, when facing life with a father who walked out on the family and a mentally ill mother, Janey was the one who held everything together, which has led to her being uptight and anxious about things not going perfectly.
Cecily meanwhile has learned to deal with life’s turmoil by escaping into art projects. Despite promising not to interfere with Janey’s life or belongings, Cecily transforms her couch in an igloo, claiming that she thought this would be a nice place for her and Janey to escape to. Janey is livid but her temper is soothed when she meets the mysterious Elliot (Hunter Canning) at a bookstore and begins scheduling wedding dress fittings before their first date. When Elliot arrives at the apartment he is at first off put by Cecily’s strange behavior, but is quickly intrigued. The chemistry between the two is apparent. Despite the fact that Janey foists daily dates upon him, Elliot becomes more smitten with Cecily and shows up to the apartment to see her, and the two behave like children as they play with her bizarre projects.
Much of the show’s likability can be credited to Hunter Canning and Susan Louise O’Connor (who seems to shine in anything she is cast in). They are immensely likable in their roles and add believability to the show's more sentimental lines, making them seem less sappy. Their characters’ moments of playing make believe are sweet and endearing. O’Connor (with the direction of David S. Stone) makes her character’s quirkiness more enigmatic than obnoxious.
While the promotional materials for The Diorama mention the “fine line between artistry and insanity,” Cecily’s works of art seem to be more craft projects than anything that expresses her inner emotional turmoil. Adding an aspect of self expression to Cecily’s creations might have added more meaning and dimension to her character and her actions. The characters, as is the case with romantic comedies, are mostly one dimensional extremes, which makes you less invested in them. Nevertheless, The Diorama has plenty of charm and cuteness in its simple story, and even though I could easily predict the ending, I enjoyed seeing it all play out.
(The Diorama plays at The Lion Theatre at Theatre Row, 410 West 42nd Street, through June 14, 2014. Performances are Tuesdays at 7PM; Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 8PM and Sunday at 3PM. Tickets are $19.25 and are available at telecharge.com or by calling 212.239.6200.)