nytheatre.com review by Jason S. Grossman
April 27, 2008
The Set-Up, a new comedy by playwright-actor-director James Lindenberg, is a contemporary play about dating and relationships. The play explores the well-intentioned actions of married matchmakers and their reluctant best friends. Overall, this is an enjoyable sexy, romantic comedy. The talented cast keeps a somewhat uneven script energized with believable, honest performances.
The story begins in the recognizable he said/she said tableau as Robert and Carolyn, the would-be daters, speak directly to the audience and lament about everything that is wrong with the opposite sex. The ensuing double date with their married friends Bill and Doris brings the story into focus as first impressions fall flat. We then follow our characters after the fallout of the encounter and wonder if our protagonists will ever get together.
Lindenberg's playful script accurately mirrors real life dating rituals and is oftentimes funny and smart. The story conveys much of modern day relationships: the awkward, intense interrogation of a first meeting; the maddening rules of dating; the perpetual conflict of our sexual appetites and our search for love; and the contradictions of old-fashioned rules of dating versus the modern equality of the sexes. Lindenberg presents real characters speaking as real people do, warts and all. They are funny, self-centered, and opinionated. They, like us, say things we think we want when we don't always ultimately want them.
The script occasionally doesn't trust its own strength, however, and there are instances of characters repeating dialogue or overstating the obvious (for example, Bill repeatedly tells his buddy Robert that Robert will never find fulfillment dating immature 25-year-old women). A very believable story of two people resistant to take a chance with each other also hits a snag or two with contrived plot devices (involving an answering machine), but for the most part this does not take away from the story. And while the exploration of the primary couple is quite satisfying, the storyline of Bill's and Doris's marital problems feels a bit underwritten. More attention to these characters might add weight to the play.
Lindenberg successfully utilizes several techniques in his direction to keep his fast-paced story moving. The use of split scenes with overlapping conversations provides an excellent duality in the he said/she said tableau. And the quick jumps from different locales almost give the play a cinematic feel.
The production works well primarily because of the solid execution by an attractive, likeable cast. In the leads, Lindenberg plays Robert, an upper-thirtysomething school teacher, amiable but certainly jaded from one too many failed online dating attempts. He has a charming, honest stage presence as the centerpiece of his production. Tara Westwood is sexy and assured but vulnerable as Carolyn and is simply a pleasure to behold. She and Lindenberg have an engaging onstage chemistry. There's nary a false move between them, and one cannot help but root for their reunion. Jennifer Danielle is strong and consistent as the emotional Doris, Carolyn's best friend. Scott Douglas Cunningham is endearing and humorously enthused as her husband Bill. Tracy Weiler and Major Dodge are hilarious as two less than mature twentysomethings, and their presence adds a comedic punch to the play. Their inebriated exuberance during an impromptu double date sequence at a dance club is terrific. Their dancing alone is worth the price of admission.
Of minor note, there are two short scenes involving Carolyn's father and ex-boyfriend Ted which aren't crucial to the story. While these minor characters are played commendably by Dodge, they momentarily detract from the production. This is a temporary distraction, however.
Set designer Josh Starr has constructed a beautiful, versatile set that accents and assists the story. Jose Conde's original music and eclectic sound design is a perfect blend of jazz and dance and helps to keep the play cruising in first gear. The lighting design by Dan Hansell is moody and appropriately atmospheric, effectively creating various locales throughout the play. Laura Catignani's costume design is certainly up to par, complimenting the characters with sexy, up-to-date fashions.