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A CurtainUp Review
Lonely, I知 Not
By Elyse Sommer
Like the previous plays, Lonely, I'm Not is billed as a comedy. But with its central characters trying to navigate the illusions and disillusions of modern life, there's a very dark underbelly to the comedy. Trip Cullman, who also directed Weitz's debut play, Roulette , is again at the helm For fans of That '70s Show, which followed a group of teens through eight seasons (1998-2006), the play's main appeal is that it affords a chance to see Topher Grace make his stage debut. Grace, who played nice, smart-alecky Eric Forman for seven of those season is still somewhat geeky and clumsy but his Porter is older and sadder-- in fact, a man who's experienced a major meltdown.
I wasn't around to see Trust in 2010 but my colleague, Simon Saltzman, reviewed Trust it (see links to our Weitz reviews before the production notes). I did see and find much to like in Roulette, and even more in P and Show People., all of which were presented just a year apart. While each was different and better than the previous one , all left me hoping for a genuine jewel.
It's been six years since I concluded my review for Show People with "until Weitz writes his perfect play, this one will do nicely." Unfortunately Lonely, I'm Not is not that jewel. The opportunity to say something new and fresh about family and romantic relationships and the American workplace is squandered. The laughs turn hollow and the shift into darker territory is too episodic to impact on the viewer's feelings.
At the end of the 90 minutes staged with cinematic but emotionally distancing scene cuts you tend not to care very much about Porter. Nor are you likely to buy into the possibility of his future stability. Unlike That '70s Show's Eric, who went to Africa as a teacher, Porter went to Harvard and became an information age wiz kid earning tons of money. The American Dream, right? Not for this dreamer. For him success began to feel as if he was in a nightmare. This disconnect sent him into a non-functioning tailspin from which he is still trying to recover when the play begins -— and alas, he doesn't seem all that tightly wrapped by the time it ends.
Also not given a chance to rise above her character's unrealized possibilities is Heather (Olivia Thirlby), the literally blind young woman, and the play's romantic interest. She's a law school graduate and corporate acquisitions analyst and she and Porter meet on a blind date arranged by a mutual friend, inexplicably named Little Dog (Christopher Jackson). The playwright's not spelling out how Porter and Heather's relationship will play out, is less a case of subtle ambiguity than facile writing. Ultimately Litle Dog's inelegant explanation for his matchmaking — "I thought you guys might hit it off! You池e both fucked up!" — could serve as an alternative title: A Romance About Two Fucked Up People.
While there's a lot of talk about Porter's former life as an ueber-achieving workaholic, Topher Grace only gets to play the post breakdown, divorced lonely, he is, man trying to get his life back together. Grace exhibits solid stage presence. He manages to convey a sense of the insecurity and vulnerability beneath Porter's laid-back persona, especially in two scenes at the beginning: His anxiety about an upcoming job interview turns into a fight when the neighborhood coffee shop's barista (Christopher Jackson in the second of three roles) refuses to bring him a lattee before the shop opens. The way he then presents himself as a candidate for a teaching job at a private school is hardly an example of an eager to reenter the world of the well-adjusted. Too bad that Grace's dialogue delivery reflects that he's not accustomed to making himself heard by a live audience.
Olivia Thirlby does what she can with the role of Heather, the sort of beautiful, extraordinarily strong person who's just true enough to Little Dog's assessment of her being a good match for Porter. The four other cast members multi-taak as ten characters who build enough explanatory dysfunction into Porter and Heather's background. Two always reliable pros, Lisa Emery and Mark Blum are excellent, especially so as Heather's handy with implied judgments mom, and Porter's exploitative swindler dad. In case you cupped your ears (as I noticed several people around me do) to better hear some of Topher Grace's dialogue, the clarity with which Blum and Emery deliver their lines should prove that the problem is not with your hearing.
Maureen Sebastian adds most of the comic touches as Heather's over-solicitous roommate and Porter's sexy ex-wife. It's all very slickly staged which is more a negative than a plus. The over-sized, glaring neon titles announcing each new scene at the back of Mark Wendland's his/her/everywhere else set, after the one just abruptly ended are more annoying than meaningful.
reflect pop-psychology 101 sensibility. I suppose Porter's crying when he has sex is supposed to be both funny and poignant, as is his having a long conversation with a senior citizen during his stint as a tele-marketer. Ultimately, however, it's all so much pop pschology 101. What we have is a play that's too serious to hold up as a comedy but not powerful enough to register as a modern tragedy.
No doubt Topher Grace will attract a young audience to the Second Stage nd the play he's in may even please many of them since it's not an egregious disaster. But, incisive or memorable it's not.
Links to Paul Weitz's previous plays, all reviewed at Curtainup.com Roulette-2004
, Privilege- 2005
Slings & Arrows- view 1st episode free
Anything Goes Cast Recording
Our review of the show
Book of Mormon -CD
Our review of the show