Sunday, November 29, 2015

Review 'Strictly Platonic'

Sharp acting elevates Strictly Platonic's familiar formula into a cute rom-com fit for Valentine's Day date nights.

Review ‘Strictly Platonic’

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Brendan Cataldo and Sarah Braverman in Larry McKenna's 'Strictly Platonic'

By Jim Rutter


Just in time for Valentine’s Day, Hedgerow Theatre serves up the world premiere of Larry McKenna’s Strictly Platonic, a cute, chocolate-covered cherry of a romantic comedy.

McKenna’s 11-scene, 90-minute script wastes no time getting to its point:  “do you ever look for meaningful relationships?” The recipient of that question is invariably a self-centered, shallow playboy, in this case, real estate agent Tim (Brendan Cataldo), riding home on the train in scene one from a night of bar hopping and phone-number scoring success with his bitter, beta male best friend (Jamie Goldman as Josh).

When Josh leaves, Tim meets Annie (Sarah Braverman), a blind woman he rescues from a mugging. A familiar formula follows: handsome boy meets interesting girl with a drawback; girl causes boy to question his previously held values; their budding relationship enriches (or at least reveals) his character.

We’ve seen this script before, in works as diverse as Neil LaBute’s Fat Pig (not to mention his In the Company of Men), the film Shallow Hal, and the Disney movie Lady and the Tramp. In a different production, McKenna’s play could easily find detractors to ask why we should sit through one more episode of a good-natured woman bringing about the enlightenment of an arrogant man.

Hedgerow’s casting nearly encourages this cynicism; few men would fail to fall for a stunning size-2 brunette like Braverman, despite her disability, annoying quirks or sarcasm. McKenna further litters his text with out-of-character literary references to Don Juan, Emily Dickinson and James Michener, stories and authors more likely known to my grandparents than these Internet and iPhone addicted millenials.

However, under McKenna’s direction, Braverman’s earnest, engaging attitude asks for no sympathy, and her sly, self-deprecating manner, the smart humor of McKenna’s lines and Cataldo’s genuine bonhomie elevates this simple script into an delightful evening that’s sweet to its center and ultimately worth every bite.

Strictly Platonic. Presented through March 3 at Hedgerow Theatre, 64 Rose Valley Road, Rose Valley. Tickets: $10 to $32. Information: 610-565-4211 or 

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About this blog

Toby Zinman's night job since 2006 is theater critic for the Inquirer where she reviews New York and London as well as Philadelphia. Her day job: Prize-winning prof at UArts, author of five books about modern and contemporary drama, and doer of scholarly deeds (winner of five NEH grants, Fulbright lecturer at Tel Aviv University, visiting professor in China). She was recently named by American Theatre magazine "one of the twelve most influential critics in America."

Wendy Rosenfield has written freelance features and theater reviews for The Inquirer since 2006. She was theater critic for the Philadelphia Weekly from 1995 to 2001, after which she enjoyed a five-year baby-raising sabbatical. She serves on the board of the American Theatre Critics Association, was a participant in the Bennington Writer's Workshop, a 2008 NEA/USC Fellow in Theater and Musical Theater, and twice was guest critic for the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival's Region II National Critics Institute. She received her B.A. from Bennington College and her M.L.A. from the University of Pennsylvania. She also is a fiction writer, was proofreader to a swami, publications editor for the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, and spends all her free time working out and driving people places. Follow her on Twitter @WendyRosenfield.

Jim Rutter has reviewed theater for The Inquirer since September, 2011. Since 2006, he covered dance, theater and opera for the Broad Street Review, and has also written for many suburban newspapers, including The Main Line Times. In 2009, the National Endowment for the Arts awarded him a Fellowship in Arts Journalism. Thames & Hudson released his updated and revised version of Ballet and Modern Dance in June, 2012. From 1998 to 2005, he taught philosophy and logic at Drexel, and then Widener University. He also coaches Olympic Weightlifting for Liberty Barbell, and has competed at the national level in that sport since 2001.

Merilyn Jackson regularly writes on dance for The Inquirer and other publications. She specializes in the arts, literature, food, travel, and Eastern European culture and politics. In 2001, she was dance critic in residence at the Festival of Contemporary Dance in Bytom, Poland; in 2005, she received an NEA Critics’ Fellowship to Duke University’s Institute for Dance Criticism. She likes to say that dance was her first love but that when she discovered writing she began to cheat on dance. Now that she writes about dance, she’s made an honest woman of herself, although she also writes poetry.

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