Piedmont Post Tuesday, November 18, 2003
   
Playhouse West puts the perfect woman onstage in Norm Foster's "The Love List"
  Brooke Campanelli is 'the perfect woman' and David Hern and Jeese Caldwell are the two bewildered men who 'create her' in Playhouse West's production of The Love List
   
Review by Robert Lee Hall  
   

“Seventy percent of the dust in the home is human skin and hair,” Bill informs his old friend Leon at the start of Canadian playwright Norm Foster’s The Love List, now in its U.S. premiere at Playhouse West in Walnut Creek. Bill ought to know. He’s a statistician, while Leon is a novelist whose career and marriage are on the skids.

Leon has taken Bill out for his 50’th birthday and hanging out in Bill’s messy pad afterward, they’re exemplars of bewildered modern man, aging, adrift, plugging away at life without quite knowing why, their main topic, women. Unlike inheritors of Dr. Frankenstein’s mantle, they unexpectedly find themselves with the power to create the perfect woman, but trouble follows. After all, what is the perfect woman? And aren’t you supposed to be careful what you wish for?

As a birthday gift, Leon has bought Bill a ‘love list’ from a dating service called ‘Got A Match’, run by an old gypsy woman. Bill is supposed to write down the ten characteristics he wants, and the service will find (or manufacture) someone to fit the bill. The guys collaborate on the list, and an hour later, “she” walks in--Justine, shapely compliant, Bill’s dream. Inviting him to slide into a warm tub with her, she coos that his troubles will “slip away like a pair of satin panties”, but by the time she’s eager to move in permanently, Bill has learned more than he wants about perfection. Perfection is driving him nuts.

A fast-paced diversion, The Love List, is no more than merely clever, and it doesn’t add up to much, but taken on it’s own terms, as a kind of theatrical card trick, it is wickedly good. Playwright Foster has created an ingeniously ticking machine from his basic premise, so that you find yourself grinning at his cunning while you laugh at dialogue that has an explosive ease that lifts it above the sitcom cheap shots a less capable writer might have fallen back on.

The result is a very pleasing two hours enhanced by Playhouse West’s smoothly flowing production, under Lois Grandi’s direction. Doug Ham’s straightforward set suggests Bill’s bachelor pad nicely, and Beverly Merrick dresses the cast in clothes that fit their characters nicely. Chris Guptill’s lighting is clear and clean.

The cast is both relaxed and spry. Looking like a dyspeptic Bob Newhart, Jesse Caldwell plays the wry Leon, doing a slow burn to perfection; while David Hern inhabits Bill, in whom enlightenment rises slowly. They’re a happy, comic team, sparked by the mercurial Justine, played by Brooke Campanelli, who has to turn herself into a different person every five minutes, and does so with blithe wit. Bright and funny, The Love List plays until December 6’th. For tickets call 925-942-0300