BWW Reviews: Winsome TRUDY AND MAX IN LOVE Debuts at South Coast Rep
In her terrific new play TRUDY AND MAX IN LOVE---now having its World Premiere performances at South Coast Repertory in Costa Mesa through January 29---writer-actress Zoe Kazan (Ruby Sparks) puts an engaging millennial spin on the typical cute-boy-meets-cute-girl story. While, true, the situations---and the complications---presented here feel somewhat familiar to the genre, the dramedy's enjoyable execution---particularly in the hands of its impressive cast of superb actors---make it, ultimately, a captivating play that's winsomely fresh and oh-so-current. You can hashtag it #FirstWorldRomanceProblems.
Under the direction of Lila Neugebauer, the story unfolds within a rapid succession of situational vignettes, often introduced by a flash of supertitles projected on a back wall to help with geographical positioning. The abrupt "cuts" between each vignette---and the minimal, yet clever set changes and lighting cues that it takes to transition from one locale to another---help give the play the pseudo-feel of a caught-on-DVR reality TV series that follows the blossoming relationship between sort-of-famous 39-year-old novelist Max (the extremely likable Michael Weston) and potty-mouthed twenty-something YA (Young Adult) author Trudy (the intriguingly alluring Aya Cash).
The two attractive writers have the kind of meet-cute you'd expect from young hot hipsters that know they're kind of cool---and have instantly identified each other as cool.
Following the notion that everything happens for a reason... their "chance" encounter occurs while renting space inside a "writers' room," the kind of nouveau-creative hangout you wouldn't be surprised exists in present day New York (Starbucks is probably too touristy and the WiFi there is spotty, perhaps). As pre-determined by the universe---and Kazan's imagination---they pick each other out across a not-so-crowded room and exchange the kind of flirty, snarky banter that young people nowadays have in abundance: the easy-breezy, sort of outward ballsy-ness people have in the Facebook and Twitter generation.
A benign conversation over coffee allows each person to out-charm the other. Boom! Sparks fly. Their electric connection is instantaneous and palpable, of course.
But their obvious attraction is relegated to an awkward, but close friendship at the start, as their lives are mutually complicated by several cart-loads of baggage: over-thinker Max has just moved--or, rather, escaped---from L.A. after ending a "complicated" relationship with a runway model; self-proclaimed "attention whore" Trudy is desperately seeking stimulation from boredom while being left alone at home by her news reporter husband, who's often traveling away on the campaign trail. There are heart-to-heart conversations and run-ins with their respective friends and acquaintances (gender-specific roles disbursed between Tate Ellington and scene-stealer Celeste Den) who each provide sounding boards yielding both supportive and judgmental feedback.
When the two finally give in and succumb to the romantic feelings foreshadowed by the play's title---their complex, hush-hush affair not only plunges them in a sea of bliss, it also, unsurprisingly, opens up the floodgates of jealousy, distrust, and resentment. Naturally, all of this is bound to doom their pairing, even if fate and science say otherwise.
And we---and the very couple this play focuses on---are once again asked to ponder that age-old question: is it really possible to genuinely love two people equally at the same time?
Interestingly staged with intelligence, witty dialogue, and plenty of biting humor, TRUDY AND MAX IN LOVE is an appealing modern day play that pits two people struggling in a battle between two opposing forces: their hearts and their heads. Which is the best path to happiness and adult-prophecised fulfillment---giving in to undeniable, off-the-charts chemistry or making smart, thought-out choices?
Much of the play is stylized like a quick-cut, reality TV episode that mines a storyline from natural conversations and realistic interactions. It zips along with a feverish purpose, slowing down with extra care only during the (few) quiet moments of introspection and revelation. Even the staging feels like real people in a real environment---in this case a single room designed to be every space in every vignette (Laura Jellinek's simple set is complimented by Lap Chi Chu's effective lighting schemes). The actors come and go; and sometimes they just sit in the background like the anonymous strangers one would expect in a large metropolis (even the subtle addition and subtraction of various set pieces, knick-knacks, and environmental accoutrements are breathlessly anticipated).