That is what I was thinking halfway through "Lonely, I'm Not," which was recently extended at Second Stage Theater (but closing on June 3rd). It has a "dark indie romantic-comedy" feel to it, just repurposed for the stage. I found myself drawn into the central characters plights and completely immersed in the show, which has this pretty, ethereal feel akin to Once. The fact that the show achieved that feat without the musical accompaniment is astounding.
The plot in question revolves around Porter (Topher Grace) re-entering the real world and trying to acquire a job after a mental breakdown induced a four-year period of isolation. He begins a romance with Heather (Olivia Thirlby), a strong-willed financial analyst in the running for a big promotion. Oh, and she happens to be blind...you know, minor detail.
Staged as a series of naturally progressing events, told vignette-style with a buzz word or a phrase neon-illuminated in the back of a stage, the story works on the writing alone. It is a relatively realistic scenario (for theater, that is) where characters talk and do things how you would expect people to act. There is a reserved-drama where it is intriguing and some of the laugh-out-loud jokes land perfectly. No gimmicks (blindness withstanding), no surprises and I cannot pick out any weak moments...the show's presentation and polish is commendable just for the fact that the execution is near-flawless.
There were just some scenes that I loved the hell out of as I realized that the show is more smartly-written then it originally let on. Both characters, about two-thirds of the way through, begin doubling as cautionary tales for the other. Not only do we, the audience, run the entire show through our heads trying to find additional moments indicating this, you realize how similar they are even if both are at completely different stages in their lives. For example, you see Heather exhibit the same desire to conquer in a business setting and lead to her to having temperamental behaviors. Behaviors that which you would associate with Porter pre-breakdown. You get the picture...even if both characters evolution were not directly-related to the relationship at hand, they sort of inspired eachother to achieve, as the story refers to it, "it." I interpreted "it" as this is internal sense of satisfaction, something that neither character had, as Porter was often found lying on the floor (for no reason) and Heather did not ever seem complacent with her work performance or even her achievement as a blind girl being independent in the real world. The show, in a subtle manner, really makes you want to cheer on the characters from a individual perspective, as well as a relationship one, without ignoring their pratfalls as a couple (his self-immolation and apparent self-loathing, her icy exterior...and yes, her eyesight).
|A subtitled play! Who knew...|
One thing I feel like I am not conveying - and I REALLY appreciated this - is how well they handled the depiction of Heather. Just as I hinted to you in my brief synopsis, you are less focused on her character trait of "blind" and more preoccupied with her "strong-willed" quality. It would be far too cliche to tropize her (yes, I invented that word; go with it) as "blind girl/love interest," so the show, quite deftly, annunciates her other qualities in developing her into a fully-realized person. You feel like you know this girl; a girl who constantly needs to prove herself to everyone, yet the world sees her as "inadequate" when she clearly is not. Oh sure, the show mines her lack of eyesight for some laughs - failed kisses, overdeveloped hearing at a concert, her color sensor - but it also had the restraint well before crossing the line into overkill.
As far as the performances...there was something left to be desired from both leads. Not so much Olivia Thirlby, who nailed the blindness mannerisms impeccably and was on her game from start to finish. But she did bother me when she began over-compensating her strong, poised exterior and went right into robotic land. A minor criticism, but certainly a relevant one when I realized her performance stopped being fun or dramatically heartfelt and started turning into a gender-blind audition for Spock. Topher Grace was the bigger issue to me because it was hard to not see Eric Forman in his acting, doubly a problem because Eric Forman is a version of Topher playing...well, Topher.
But the production as a whole looks ship-shape for a Broadway transfer and quite frankly, it is one of the most light and sweet theater-going experiences this year. I left satisfied and smiling, but not because of some cheap, maudlin tricks or some sappy, all-too satisfying conclusion. If it's extension, timely trends and across-the-board great reviews are any indication, we could be looking at an early theater filler once some of the more bleh and uninspired shows run their course this season. And if Thirlby transfers with the production and loosens up her bolts a little, she could be a contender for a Best Actress in a Play nomination.