Sunday, August 2, 2015

Review: "Even Steven"

Most romantic comedies succeed by indulging fantasy: men want to date out of their league; women want a nice guy they can whip into a socially respectable man. Robin Pond's Even Steven, at the Walnut's Studio 5, borrows the rom-com backdrop but toys with the formula, not always successful, says Jim Rutter.

Review: "Even Steven"

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By Jim Rutter
FOR THE INQUIRER

Most romantic comedies succeed by indulging fantasy: men want to date out of their league; women want a nice guy they can whip into a socially respectable man.

Robin Pond’s Even Steven, at the Walnut's Studio 5, borrows the rom-com backdrop but toys with the formula. Teddy (Matt Dell’Olio) and Sarah (Stephanie Lauren) broke up after three years, when she dumped him because his slacker lifestyle no longer fit her careerist ambitions. (That, and a Porsche-driving lawyer took her out a few times, then vanished.)

Both attempt to elevate their sagging status by hiring Steven Ames (Robb Hutter), who runs the titular revenge agency and sets each up with a pretend partner: lawyer-lookalike Jack (John Smitherman) and bombshell Morgan (Meredith Orlow).

Pond’s comedy drips with all the syrup of a badly written movie but argues that people should deal with reality: Men are irredeemable schlubs no matter how much women nag, and an irksome shrew only looks good when not standing next to Katherine Heigl. Instead of presenting a formulaic “love conquers all” story, Pond provides a blunt, refreshing moral that most couples should find happiness by dating at the level of their market value.

Too bad the bulk of the script and the uneven production by Laugh Out Loud Theatre Company don’t pay back the unusual tack and interesting insight. Pond clutters the storyline with the underdeveloped or bizarre motivations of odd secondary characters. And the entire play takes place in the coffee shop that serves as a front for Ames’ revenge business. Unfortunately, unlike  the relaxing atmosphere found in most Starbucks, poor lighting keeps the sharp, realistic set in a glaring overload for 85 straight minutes.

Orlow shines in the evening’s one enjoyable role; Dell’Olio, by contrast, gives a fascinating, warped performance that only lacks fake Vulcan ears in its creepy nerdiness. Smitherman’s direction garners humor where it can, in the set's posters (“Drink Coffee: do stupid things faster”) or the guest-actors reading outrageous coffeehouse poetry (opening night featured recent Barrymore nominee Alex Keiper).

As a comedy, Even Steven delivers few laughs, but loud ones, flowing from backhanded compliments, passive-aggressive remarks, and the occasional hysterical insult. Pond’s shoddy dialogue doesn’t match his clever turns (such as Teddy writing reality-comic books about “The Prevailer,” a hero who overcomes adversity by waiting things out). Still, the play serves as a welcome antidote to the next Seth Rogen movie. 

Presented by Laugh Out Loud Theatre Company at Walnut Studio 5, 824 Walnut St through Nov. 20. Tickets: $14-$22. Information: 941-544-0164 or www.jdsentertainments.com

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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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