Arts & Entertainment.........Monday, November 17, 2003
'Love List' a sharp, funny look at today's dating scene
by Georgia Rowe    
Times Correspondent    

"Be careful what you wish for" is always good advice, especially in love. The old adage is tested to its comic limits in Norm Foster's "The Love List," a new play making its U.S. premiere in a winning Playhouse West production. The show opened Friday in the intimate Knight Stage 3 Theater at the Regional Center for the Arts, where it continues through Dec. 6.

Foster's cleverly constructed script takes aim at aging singles and contemporary dating services by imagining what might happen when one man gets the chance to order his dream date and actually have the order filled. Bill (David Hern) is a shy, mild-mannered civil servant, divorced for seven years and dateless for almost as long.

As the play begins, he's celebrating his 50th birthday with his best friend Leon (Jesse Caldwell), who comes up with the perfect gift: a matchmaking service guaranteed to kick-start Bill's love life. All he has to do, Leon explains, is fill out a form specifying the 10 qualities he most desires in a woman. The first scene delivers plenty of laughs, and clearly establishes the men's personalities. Bill's years as a single guy have allowed him to retain his idealistic view of love, and he lists items such as "well-versed" and "a sense of humor." Leon, married for 24 years, is a little more cynical, and tries to steer his friend toward superficial physical attributes. "Large breasts," he advises. "A sense of humor is very overrated."

Bill shrugs it off -- it's just a game, after all -- but in the next scene, his choices materialize alarmingly in the flesh. When Justine (Brooke Campanelli) comes to the door, she's everything he's asked for and more. Smart, sexy, assertive -- and, needless to say, wildly attracted to Bill -- she steps into his arms like some kind of fantasy come to life. Of course, nothing's ever that simple.

Combining plot elements of "The Odd Couple" and "The Bride of Frankenstein," the scheme starts to go horribly awry almost immediately. Bill's new romance begins to seriously threaten his friendship with Leon. Worse, Justine starts to exhibit tiny imperfections. Bill tries to fix them by fine-tuning the list, and ends up creating a modern-day monster.

Directed by Playhouse West artistic director Lois Grandi, the production continues the company's association with Canadian playwright Foster, established in past seasons' stagings of "Wrong for Each Other" and "Jupiter in July." Sharp, snappy and irresistibly funny, "The Love List" is the best script he's delivered to date, and Grandi and her design team give the show a polished, well-paced production.

Doug Ham's bachelor pad set, lit in warm tones by Chris Guptill, tells you everything you need to know about Bill, and Beverly Merrick's attractive contemporary costumes flatter the actors and define the characters in every scene.

The cast does a terrific job of bringing the comedy to life. Hern's optimistic, easy-going Bill is the perfect foil for Caldwell's scathingly sarcastic Leon, and Campanelli's mercurial Justine -- who moves through a rapid-fire palette of emotional colors as Bill reorders her requirements -- is always one step ahead of them. "The Love List" feels a little like a sitcom and, as one might expect, it winds up with an obligatory twist. You can see it coming, but at least it's believable. In love, Foster suggests, we may not get what we wish for. More often than not, we get exactly what we deserve.