There are all kinds of funny punning opening sentences that I could start this review with, along the lines of
Love Me is irresistible
Love Me? Impossible not to!
or something like that. But knowing that on the cleverness and wit fronts I am undeniably outclassed by Love Me's author, Jason S. Grossman, I will leave that kind of wordplay to him and instead just tell you that this is an absolutely delightful romantic comedy. Until it becomes the must-see feel-good movie of some future summer (as it deserves to be), let Love Me be your must-see feel-good play of 2010.
The story is simple enough: Charlie is a part-time motivational speaker and aspiring (read: unemployed) actor who is working on a screenplay about a standup comic who is a superhero. But what's really important about Charlie is that he is looking for love. When we first meet him, he is rehearsing a phone message he wants to leave for Donna, the girl whose ad intrigues him in this week's Village Voice. His imagination—shown to us in quite literal form by a second actor on stage, who plays what the program calls Charlie's Inner Voice—conjures a variety of possible approaches, but when he actually makes the call, all he can manage to say is "Love Me!" before hanging up on Donna's answering machine.
So, Charlie has a bit of a way to go when it comes to relationships and women and that sort of thing. Love Me tracks his journey. First, there's Carol, an actor/writer whom he meets at an audition for an infomercial. Later, there's Susan, a more self-involved actress of great beauty whom he finds it impossible to say "no" to.
Charlie's friends John and Tom, and Carol's friends Sara and Wendy, also have dating issues, and the play peppers their romantic ups and downs alongside Charlie's. Grossman gives us characters who are likeable, believable, and richly, deeply human, and he sketches them with such warmth and humanity that we are drawn to every one of them. Much of the comedy in Love Me is situational, but this is also the rare contemporary comedy that is actually filled with jokes—not gratuitous gross-out stuff but genuinely hilarious banter that makes us laugh out loud and marvelous set pieces, such as the infomercial that gets much of the story going (for a revolutionary new weight loss product) that are brilliant miniature comic sketches all on their own. This is very smart, very wry writing.
Grossman couldn't ask for a more skillful or simpatico director than Daryl Boling, who brings the comedy to life with verve and style. The pacing is brisk and the transitions are flawless; the comedy and the sweetly beating heart beneath are each given their due. Boling has cast the play with what feels like a near-perfect ensemble. Aaron Rossini and Jeff Wills anchor the show with appealing goofy charm as the "real" and "inner" Charlies, respectively; James Cichewicz and Ridley Parson are terrific as pals John and Tom (and Cichewicz has a grand cameo that I don't want to spoil here); and Daina Stefanie Schatz (Wendy), Laura Schwenninger (Sara), Kaira Klueber (Susan), and Victoria Watson (Kate) all excel as women who are very funny and very attractive—their banter in a couple of scenes set in a dive bar feels like the perfect antidote to the overdressed Sex and the City bunch.
Last year at the first Planet Connections Theatre Festivity I made the happy discovery of Our Country, a thrilling musical ripe for development and expansion. This year, lightning seems to have struck again (in the very same theatre, I might add): Love Me is a charmer of a comic romance that audiences should flock to and enjoy and that producers should quickly learn about and help move to its next logical level of development.