Hendersonville Times-News, August 27, 2004  

'Compelling comedy'

Norm Foster's 'The Love List' on stage at Flat Rock Playhouse


By Franklin Harris, Special to the Times-News

Bill (David Lutken), a nerdy statistician, is challenged by a philandering friend, Leon (Peter Thomasson) to bust a rut on his 50th birthday and create a list of the 10 traits he most desires in a woman. The Love List created by the two is the current comedy presented at Flat Rock Playhouse. Bill does not believe that he needs a woman in his life. Leon insists that he does. Bill does not want to create his list of 10 desirable characteristics. Leon persists, and together they achieve Leon's goal. At the top of Leon's list is "good sex every day". Bill reluctantly places this as his #4. Leon, accused of being shallow, wants "big boobs" on the list. It does not make it; instead, ambition, sense of humor and trust get on Bill's list as do six other traits. And the play's story begins.
Bill falls asleep at his desk overnight. He is awakened by a knock at the door. Justine (Stephanie Wahl) appears. As the comedy progresses, we learn that Justine has many of the characteristics on the love list. Is she real? Bill cannot believe that this woman, who suddenly appeared in his life, is satisfying many of the desires and needs on his list. David Lutken, left, Peter Thomasson and Stephanie Wahl star in the Norm Foster comedy The Love List at the Flat Rock Playhouse. (PATRICK SULLIVAN/TIMES-NEWS)
He accuses Leon of hiring her for the night from the dating service which provided the love list. Just who she is and how she got there is the thread of mystery that gives this comedy much of its momentum. Leon is jealous of Bill and Justine as he watches his own marriage teeter and fall.
Dressed in corduroys and plaid golf shirt, Bill is in sharp relief to Leon's stylish (and matching) sport coat, slacks and shirt. Bridget Bartlett, costume designer, maintains this contrast throughout the play. Leon's eating habits in Bill's apartment belie his suave appearance. Beer and Lucky Charms are closer to the real Leon who justifies his womanizing because he's a writer and needs to understand a variety of women in order to write about them. Bill looks startled yet retorts, "That's why you call it creative writing. You're supposed to make it up!"
The chemistry, pace and nuance between these two craftsmen is the bedrock on which this comedy sustains its balance and poise. Yet, the funniest moment in the play belongs to Lutken's spontaneity and expressive face -- you'll know when it happens. Wahl enters first as a hip, sexy, intelligent lover and changes fluidly and convincingly as the situation demands. Of her many roles at FRP, this, to me, is her most demanding. She superbly meets the challenges of the multi-layers and personality facets of her role.
FRP has presented several of Norm Foster's comedies. On the Flight Path starring the author and his wife and this current offering, The Love List are the two best seen by this reviewer. It is a pleasure also to see Thomasson in a role that challenges and displays his comedic talent -- as a self-absorbed, womanizing writer of trite fiction. Lutken is at his best in this milieu as a tentative, self-deprecating yet sensitive and intelligent man.
A cast of three. A comedy. Two hours to fill. A challenge all around. My highest compliments to Norm Foster, to the three actors and to Dave Matthews, director, for presenting to us this well-paced comedy whose characters I care about and whose story line is both compelling and intriguing.
Flat Rock Playhouse will present The Love List at 8:15 p.m. today and Saturday and 2:15 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Performances will continue at 8:15 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday and at 2:15 p.m. Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday through Sept. 6. Tickets are $25. For more information, and to make reservations, call the playhouse at 693-0731.