August 11, 2009
North Coast Rep's 'Love List' a winning, laugh-loaded hit
Beti Trauth........Beacon Correspondent Edward Olson, Kimberly Haile and Victor Howard

NCRT has done it again! They've come up with a witty, winning, laugh-loaded hit, “The Love List.” This outrageous, cheerfully bawdy romantic comedy has a wildly innovative unpredictable plot deftly performed by a terrific trio of Humboldt County's most engaging actors: Edward Olson, Victor Howard and Kimberly Haile. Canadian playwright Norm Foster has gleefully created a surprising script that has as many unexpected twists and turns as a scenic California coastal highway.

Although his characters and initial plot situations initially appear to be perfectly “normal,” a quirky undercurrent of unexplained fantasy soon becomes apparent as the increasingly hilarious happenings progress. Imagine, if you will, what would happen if Alfred Hitchcock (the master of dark comedy) had written a “Twilight Zone” inspired, late night cable sitcom spiced up with some very adult behavior and language -- all played for laughs. That's Foster's “Love List.” That list is one that two longtime, very different friends collaborate on to create their combined personal requirements for “their perfect woman.”

Bill (Olson) is an admittedly “boring” and slightly overweight (but pleasant looking) divorced guy whose profession is working with numbers. His salty, dry-witted pal, Leon (Howard), is a still married but sexually wandering and self-centered cynical novelist whose books are no more successful than his relationships. So, who is he to be giving his unattached, lonely friend a birthday present purchased for him from a “Strange Gypsy Woman”? The present turns out to be the gypsy's guarantee of finding the “ideal woman” for a man who makes a list of the ten most essential (quite often chauvinistic physical and behavioral attributes) that she absolutely must have, rated in their importance from one to ten.

Of course since Bill and Leon are not always in complete agreement, these not only sometimes vary in their order, but also either change or disappear entirely from the list. But, that's not what keeps things constantly intriguing for the audience. There's also the sudden, unexplained arrival to Bill's door of a stunning young woman (Haile) who seems to personify everything that he and the lustful Leon have finally put on their “perfect love list.” She off handedly identifies herself as Justine--which just happens to be the name of Bill's, long ago lost first love. Is this simply a coincidence, or something more? And, what about the unsettling fact that every time she leaves the apartment and shuts the door behind, she quite literally disappears into thin air? Is she flesh and blood or a ghostly “dream girl”?

Even more fascinating and decidedly eerie and often hilarious are Justine's chameleon-like tendencies to alter her personality characteristics. The two guys own actions are also becoming more and more extreme, funnier and funnier as the actors performances morph into exaggerated reactions of comedic confusion as reality and fantasy continue to collide. Never have Olson and Howard individually been more right on their artistic game, nailing their characters to the wall with outrageous ease. And, balancing them perfectly as their seductive, spunky feminine foil, is the delightful Haile. She's a sheer delight, cleverly concealing the petals of a steel magnolia beneath her embracing arms. Cotton candy princess or upwardly mobile career woman? Tempting sexpot or sweet homebody? All or none of the above?

And what about that gypsy who possibly “conjured” her up? What will the audience actually know for sure about “The Love List” by the final curtain? All I'll say is that you'll hear one of the best, funniest, most shocking and memorable “curtain lines” ever written. Believe me, you'll never forget it!

Congratulations to director Carol Escobar for making the magic happen. Technically, the production is also as good as it gets. The solid, realistic scenic design by actor Olson (with details added by William Nevins) and co-constructed by Brian Walker and Dmitry Tokarsky, is one of the finest I've seen on the NCRT stage, ever. And the excellent lighting design by Calder Johnson and enjoyable sound design by Howard Lang are both beautifully run from the booth by Kelsey Larson.

Genneveve Hoods costumes for each character's multiple changes are right on each different mood's money; and the properties by Deborah Salizzoni add immensely to the show's visual texture. Additional kudos go to Wanda Stapp behind the scenes stage management that keep the onstage antics running smoothly.

NCRT's “The Love List” is definitely not suitable for audiences under high school age. The run continues on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays through Aug. 15 with performances at 8 p.m. There will be one Sunday matinee at 2 p.m. on Aug. 6. Call 442-6278 for details, reservations and group rates. See our Arts & Entertainment Calendar for all show times.