NY Theater Review JK Clarke
Meet-cute stories are as old as storytelling itself. They were probably the next genre after the “this is where to find the antelope that you can hunt and eat” stories. By now, however, we’ve been so Harry-Met-Sally’d to death that any new venture into the subject matter had better offer something extraordinary. In other words: “wow us!” Signal Failure, the romantic two-hander imported from the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and playing through November 16 at the SoHo Playhouse, attempts to do just that.
Signal Failure is the story of two early-twenties lonelyhearts, Lorna (Sasha Ellen) and Brian (Spencer Cowan), just beginning their lives of post-collegiate worker drudgery. Dismayed by their mindless commutes, they begin (unbeknownst to and unaware of each other) observing fellow commuters and fantasizing about these strangers’ love lifes. Brian takes it a step further—à la Audrey Tautou’s character in the wonderful 2001 Jeunet film, Amélie—and endeavors to manufacture romances by placing ads in the “Missed Connections” section of a tabloid newspaper. Eventually, Lorna and Brian discover each other and fall in love, in typical meet-cute fashion. Their romance is lovely, but not meant to endure, for they appear incapable of basic human communication. A simple misunderstanding tears them asunder. It is eventually revealed, at the risk of a spoiler here, that both Lorna and Brian are damaged goods (for good reason, it seems) and pretty much dysfunctional when it comes to intimacy.
Written by Ms. Ellen as well, Signal Failure’s quick, snappy dialog is prettily performed by Ms. Ellen and Mr. Cowan. They have lovely, sweet chemistry and quick wit on stage, but are short-changed by the story itself. Too many elements practically defy logic: how could they not, in several months of what feels like fairly genuine intimacy (and presumably plenty of time for pillow talk), have discussed Brian’s machinations with the Missed Connections? Or, for that matter, the tragic components of their lives which eventually upend their relationship? The whole scenario and their enormous gaps in communication seem dubious at best. What’s more, the parts of their developing relationship we do get to witness are presented as exciting and new, yet are neither to anyone older than 25, making it harder to care about these two than it should be. Worse still, the play takes what feels like an enormous amount of time to get to its dramatic peak. A healthy dose of editing (including added scenes exploring their relationship) would benefit the story enormously.
The idea of an individual (or couple) toying with others’ romantic lives and then stumbling into his own is undoubtedly compelling. And it’s a storyline that would work quite well with these terrific actors and Ms. Ellen’s crisp dialog (also well directed by Peter Darney), but with such a glaring shortcoming in the overall story arc, these elements are not allowed their moment to shine. Signal Failure indeed suffers from misconnections and that’s too bad, because it seemed like the trip was going so smoothly.
Signal Failure. Through November 17 at SOHO Playhouse (15 Vandam Street, between Sixth and Seventh Avenues). www.SoHoPlayhouse.com
Photos: Natalya Chagrin