If you look at cinema box office ticket reports, you will see that romantic comedies are trending down in recent years, and that the once bankable enterprise of a likeable leading lady getting her handsome man is now viewed as outdated and un-relatable by today’s cynical audience. I am happy to say that Dirty Great Love Story, playing at 59E59 Theaters, breaks that mold and reminds us why we fell in love with all those Meg Ryan movies in the first place.
This play comes to NYC from London, and is “written and rhymed” by Richard Marsh and Katie Bonna, who are also the two actors that make up the cast of the show. The play is a stereotypical love story with a fresh and disarmingly honest face-lift. It is performed with inventive humor and emotional depth, quickly making you forget that in essence it is a simple story of boy meets girl.
Richard is attending a bachelor party. Katie a bachelorette party. They both happen to be at the same club. They meet up and it leads to a one-night stand. He thinks she’s the best thing that ever happened to him, but she can’t escape fast enough. The play follows the characters over two years as we see their missed connections, arguments over he said she said, almost hook-ups, and awkward wedding seat assignments. In true rom-com form, the couple that seems like they will never work out ends up being perfect for each other. The joy of watching this play is in knowing how it will end, but going along for the ride anyway to find out exactly how these two peoples’ paths will intertwine.
The story is told through a combination of spoken poetry, monologues, and traditional scenes. The time shifts effortlessly as the performers recall what happened on a given night, and then begin living their memory in real time. Each of the actors plays multiple characters, and watching them juggle the opposing personalities is such a riot! Nearly all of the text is rhymed and the ease with which it is delivered is truly magical, and often quite hilarious. Despite this heightened language, the play feels pedestrian and completely understandable – a tribute to the brilliance of the direction, by Pia Furtado.
One of the highlights of watching this piece is getting to know Marsh and Bonna. They are so raw and revealed during the performance that I felt as if they were telling the story for the first time, and that it was improvised on the spot just for me. But I know that their perfect timing and unexpected word play is actually an incredible feat of timing and rehearsal. Upon entering the stage, Marsh and Bonna greeted the audience and gave us a small history about the play, then proceeded to perform it. It is this acknowledgement – them taking the time to say that this is a re-telling, it’s an imagining of a story that allows such freedom for the audience to go along for the ride. I love those moments in the theatre, where you are not asked to believe something is real, you are simply asked to imagine it is. The audience has an exciting role to play in this production in that way – we are invited to engage in the story along with the cast. There are sly asides and tiny winks to us throughout the performance in the way only superb performers can do – never annoying, and never at the sake of the action, but always making us feel like we are in on the joke.
Dirty Great Love Story makes poetry seem like normal speech, heightened situations seem like everyday occurrences, and by the end of the evening, the two leads seem like best friends you’ve known for many years. Such a strong emotional connection can be felt between them, and they graciously share it with the entire audience. We are only too happy to receive.