Playing to Plymouth

Archetypical: Dorian Chalmers, Gregory Eiden, Peter Colburn, and Karen Weber
Gerald Gustafson

There is a wedding reception outside the Plymouth Playhouse. I cannot see the bride or groom, but children in ties or dresses gather around a cake, and the walls are lined with chairs, which in turn are filled with weary tuxedo- and gown-clad seniors, staring into space with quiet exhaustion. The Plymouth Playhouse is situated in the basement of a hotel--the Best Western Kelly Inn, located right where I-494 meets Highway 55, to be specific--and its box office shares the lobby with a Green Mill Restaurant, as well as a party room, which explains the wedding reception.

There isn't much in the way of professional theatrics once you leave the cities: the Chanhassen Dinner Theatre, yes, and Minnetonka's the Old Log, and then the suburbs just become an undifferentiated mass of strip malls, oversized churches, and SUVs. Interestingly, the Plymouth Playhouse was started by the Old Log's Don Stoltz, back in 1974, when it was called the Radisson Playhouse. God love him, Stoltz seems to have made it his peculiar mission to bring theater to the suburbs, or at least to bring The Owl and the Pussycat to the suburbs, which he did in 1975.

The Plymouth Playhouse is now in the hands of a company called Troupe America, which specializes in light, popular musicals, or, to be more specific, for the past six years has specialized in one musical in particular. This was Howard Mohr's How to Talk Minnesotan: The Musical, which the troupe turned into quite the little cottage industry, revamping the text every so often to reflect the changing seasons: How to Talk Minnesotan: The Holiday Musical, How to Talk Minnesotan: Winter Lessons.

Lately, however, Troupe America has been running I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change, a slight musical comedy of unrelated musical interludes and short comic sketches that apparently has been running off-Broadway for over half a decade, giving it the rather unexpected distinction of being off-Broadway's longest-running musical.

This is a production that proposes to parody the everyday, creating songs out of romantic experiences that the playwright's assumed we've all shared: The agony of waiting for a promised phone call from a suitor; the mortification of our parents when we end a long-term relationship. In one scene, two women enduring dinner with a pair of drunk, boorish men share a song titled "Single Man Drought," presumably explaining why they don't excuse themselves to powder their noses and then disappear quietly out the bathroom window. In another, a milquetoasty married man sings of his lone, precious experience of power, which comes to him behind the wheel of his automobile.

I Love You plays as light comedy, but there is an odd undercurrent of clutching, needy desperation in this musical, at least when the characters are single. When married, they deteriorate into exhaustion or routine. As a comedy, this musical is at once slight and rather unnerving. This is dating?

Fortunately, Troupe America has brought to this play a group of seasoned performers: Pete Colburn, Gregory Eiden, Karen Weber, and, this evening, Lisa Westmoreland, swapping places with regular performer Dorian Chalmers. If the musical is obsessed with indistinction--and it is, as its book is filled with vague characterizations--these performers are working under an opposing instinct. They set out to make each character in the play distinct: Eiden, as an example, has a wide grin and boyish features, and tends to play his roles with his voice at its highest register. His voice cracks as he speaks, and he displays an alarming number of goofy mannerisms. Seated opposite Westmoreland in a scene, he wears his pants high around his waist as she hides behind an oversized pair of glasses, and they make awkward conversation. Suddenly, as the music rises, both leap from their seats in a burlesque of overconfident dating behaviors, and their shared, gawky mannerisms are wittier than anything found in the book of the play.

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