On Wednesday evening, I attended the opening performance of “I Love You Because,” which is showing in the Saybrook Underbrook twice more tonight. If you need something to boost your spirits this weekend, this performance is a great choice (and I’ve got a couple dozen super excited prefrosh and their parents to back me up).
Directed by Zina Ellis ’15, “I Love You Because” offers two hours of dysfunctional rebound romance in New York City. Torn up over their respective breakups, six young people determine that the best way to move on from heartbreak is to date someone completely wrong. They’re working hard to follow all the rules — calculating “rebound time” based on RL (“romantic life”), debating the proper time to send the “rekindle poem” and adhering to the “Rock Bottom Principle” — which means that, when it can’t get any worse, you revert back to your ex. Diana (Caroline Powers ’17) and Jeff (Jordan Schroeder ’16) convince Marcy (Lauren Modiano ’17) and Austin (Simon Schaitkin ’17) to meet each other, assuming that none of them could ever be compatible — but per the protocol of romantic comedy, all plans must go wonderfully wrong.
The greatest strength of “I Love You Because” is the acting — it’s solid throughout, but I’m especially convinced by Modiano’s Marcy and her rebound love interest, Schaitkin’s Austin. Playing this relationship believably is no small feat, given that Marcy’s spontaneity has to mesh with Austin’s insistence on order. When their first coffee shop meeting erupts into a fight when Austin can’t drop the topic of his ex-girlfriend, it’s hard to imagine the pair ever being vulnerable to one another. But as Marcy coaches Austin through his unpromising greeting card writing, leading up to a chaotic dinner date in which the two take on a Chinese restaurant waiter, it’s impossible to imagine them with anyone else. Although his emotional arc is less pronounced, Schroeder’s choreography is crisp from start to finish, and whether he’s dancing, feigning back pain or multiplying on an abacus, it’s clear that his heart is completely into it.
The cast uses the Underbrook space well, keeping the scenery simple with just a few rotating pieces of furniture in front of a New York City skyline, but exploring the possibilities for entrances, lighting and the pit orchestra. When serving coffees to Marcy and Austin, the barista also walks over to offer one to the pianist. As Marcy struggles alone onstage to work through her feelings toward Austin, the lights tremble through warm and cold patterns, and characters make entrances and exits not only off to stage left and right, but also by running down the side aisle. This thorough stage presence makes for an energy that touches every corner of the Underbrook.
If “I Love You Because” disappoints anywhere, it’s in the vocal performances. Solos are strong, especially from Modiano and Powers. But the cast stumbles during the ensemble songs, which unfortunately includes the opening number. The six singers struggle to fall into sync with one another to deliver a unified performance, and harmonies don’t always line up. The unity in the vocals improved as the show went on, perhaps with the heightening energy as the cast eased into their first performance of the week, producing a momentum that they will hopefully be able to sustain into the weekend.
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