Strangers in paradise


By Gregory Fletcher
Directed by Tom Wojtunik
Emerging Artists Theatre
Theatre 5
311 W. 43rd St. 5th floor (212/247-2429;
Equity showcase (closes Feb. 25)
Review by Byrne Harrison

Jules is young, handsome, and about to celebrate his first anniversary with David, the man of his dreams. That is, until David shows up with a bottle of tequila and a hustler as his anniversary present. Thus begins Jules’s search for a new Mr. Right; the man who will meet all of his expectations and fantasies. But as each Mr. Right turns out to be Mr. Wrong, Jules is forced to reevaluate the concept of the perfect man. With the help of his no-nonsense father and the flamboyant and mysterious CEO of a dating service called Edenville, Jules starts to realize that true love can’t be forced and the man of his dreams may be someone he never would have considered.

The main story of Edenville is not particularly novel. It’s a traditional romantic comedy with lost loves, bad dates, and the inevitable happy ending. What keeps the play fresh is that instead of being a great catch who somehow can’t seem to find the right guy, Jules is kind of screwed up. He’s a little obsessive; a bit of a perfectionist. He projects his ideal of Mr. Right on his dates and is either severely disappointed when they turn out not to be perfect or he drives them away by trying to force them to be someone they’re not. And he only dates within a narrow physical type. It’s not hard to understand why he’s alone. But his imperfections and unrealistic expectations make him an interesting character and certainly easier to identify with than the bland leading men of many romantic comedies. As the play went on, the audience wanted to see him happy.

This was in no small part due to Sebastian La Cause, whose good looks tempered with vulnerability helped make Jules such a believable character. Josh Berresford, who played David and the other men Jules dates on his quest for Mr. Right, managed to create four unique characters who just happened to look a lot alike. He was especially endearing as the dog-walking environmentalist, Lars, and the amusingly light-on-his-feet Mikey. Some of the most moving and interesting moments of the play involved the relationship between Jules and his Dad (Nick Ruggeri). Ruggeri, who also played an older man who kept trying to pick up Jules in a bar, created a character at once worried about his son, yet somewhat distant. Adrian Anchondo played Roberto, a waiter whom Jules befriends and tutors in English. It’s through this friendship that Jules discovers that he has passions and loves beyond his search for Mr. Right. The scene-stealer of the show, however, was the flamboyant and over-the-top Gary Cowling, who played the C.E.O. of Edenville. With his constant barrage of musical-theatre references and his willingness to do anything to get a laugh or a client, his scenes had the most pop in what was already a high-energy play.

Deftly directed by Tom Wojtunik, Edenville was a delight.

Edenville was being presented as part of the Emerging Artists Theatre’s Triple Threat, along with The Kitchen Table and Rock the Line.

Box Score:

Writing: 1
Directing: 2
Acting: 2
Set: 1
Costumes: 1
Lighting/Sound: 1

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Copyright 2006 Byrne Harrison