I Love You Because
nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
February 13, 2006
Austin, a buttoned-up fellow who works as a greeting card writer, walks in on his girlfriend of five years, having sex with another man. So he goes with his older brother Jeff, a pedicab driver who always calls things by the wrong names, on a double date (arranged via J-Date, though no one in this play is Jewish). The women are Marcy, a photographer who has just broken up with her boyfriend after two years; and her friend Diana, an actuary (!) who is ready to sow some wild oats.
Naturally, Austin and Marcy are initially repelled by each other. But, if they can only get over (1) his refusal to accept the demise of his last relationship and (2) the fact that they are as unalike as it's possible to be, they will certainly make the perfect couple.
Diana and Jeff, meanwhile, having absolutely nothing in common, are instantly attracted to one another.
When the curtain falls (metaphorically) on I Love You Because, both pairs have paired, presumably for happily ever after. They sing the chipper title song, whose lyric says they love each other because of (as opposed to in spite of) their differences.
In fact, they love each other because the authors say they do. Do not look for logic—or emotional honesty, or the meagerest glimmer of intelligence—in this show, which is all about suspension of disbelief in the name of romance. I suppose it could well be the feel-good date show of the moment. I found it relentlessly, appallingly dumb.
Here's the arc sketched out by book/lyric writer Ryan Cunningham and composer Joshua Salzman: in Act One, they convince us how quirkily, goofily unsuited for one another are the idiotic Jeff and brainy Diana and the obsessive Austin and free-spirited Marcy; and then in Act Two, they barrage us with ballad after ballad telling us that both couples are hopelessly in love. Okey-dokey, if you say so: I was not convinced.
Part of the problem is that many of the attributes doled out to the characters are described but never shown: we're told that Austin has a "plan" and (horrors!) is a Republican, but we don't actually see any examples or indications of same. Equally troubling is the inconsistency of the authors' characterizations: Diana's opening number is all about how she can assign numeric formulas to emotional situations, but everything she does thereafter suggests that she has no faith in that particular ability.
Mainly, I Love You Because is tragically derivative, not only of Pride and Prejudice, to which it owes its characters' names and (perhaps) the general outline of its plot, but also of pretty much every successful sitcom of the late 20th century (the scene in which Marcy and Austin finally "do it," for example, is lifted more or less verbatim from a famous and much better executed scene from Cheers), not to mention countless date movies and, in the case of Jeff's propensity for malapropism, The Rivals.
And yet it still manages to make not a modicum of sense.
The score is an agreeable string of pop tunes: Salzman's music is pleasant but the melodies tend to run together, while Cunningham's lyrics are competent but without wit; there's evidence of talent here, but not of substance or, more importantly, heart. The same cannot be said for Christopher Gattelli's choreography, which is practically non-existent, or Daniel Kutner's direction, which is clumsy and awkward.
I don't know whose idea it was to turn the endlessly shape-shifting Village Theatre stage into what amounts to a runway down the middle of the auditorium, providing Kutner with at least two challenges—audience on both sides and a playing space lacking width and depth—that he fails to cope with.
Stephanie D'Abruzzo, lately of Avenue Q, and David A. Austin, in his NYC debut, make as much of Diana and Jeff as they can. The nasal Farah Alvin and the hopelessly wooden Colin Hanlon, as Marcy and Austin, do not. Jordan Leeds and Courtney Balan, billed as "NYC Man" and "NYC Woman," are more believable and likable than the other cast members in thankless roles, portraying various restaurant/bar personnel and moving the sparse furniture on and off stage between scenes. I felt very sorry for them. With any luck, they'll be able to find employment in much better shows very soon.