Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Previously on ...Nobody Loves You

Heath Calvert as suave but clueless host Byron
and the cast of Nobody Loves You. Photo by Joan Marcus.
Nobody Loves You, by Itamar Moses and Gaby Alter. Directed by Michelle Tattenbaum, choreographed by Mandy Moore. Starring Bryan Fenkart and Aleque Reid. Opening July 18th, currently running at Second Stage Theatre through August 11th, 2013.

The Bachelor, Love Connection, Boy Meets Boy - we've all seen the reality shows. A hodgepodge collection of contestants deemed interesting or strange enough (and willing enough to subject themselves to a reality competition for love) living together in a house full of cameras and hijinks. We know it's not real and wonder if the contestants know, too. We watch, we mock, and we live-tweet. So what happens when one of the heaviest detractors of reality dating shows lands himself a role on one of them?

Jeff, smarting from a recent breakup, decides to audition for the latest craze reality show, Nobody Loves You, his ex's favorite - first in an effort to woo her back, and then in revenge. This show features the charming farewell at each elimination, "Please pack your bags and go ... Nobody loves you." A budding ontologist, Jeff sees his participation on the show as a vehicle for writing his dissertation on reality and pseudo-reality. But, as such stories go, he finds love in the strangest of places.

Dynamically staged by Michelle Tattenbaum, with choreography by another reality TV name, So You Think You Can Dance's Mandy Moore, Nobody Loves You is some good fast-paced fun - a light romp of a backstage-to-reality perspective on both love as performance and love as connection. It balances nimbly on the line between outright mockery and some basic earnestness - we laugh at the cartoonish characters on the show, while also finding ourselves strangely invested in their stories. Like any good reality TV show, where we mock it but tune in every week for more wackiness, Nobody Loves You lets us have our cake and laugh at it, too.

Lauren Molina, Autumn Hurlbert, Rory O'Malley, and Roe Hartrampf as hopeful
contestants Megan, Samantha, Dominic and Christian. Photo by Joan Marcus.

And the contestants are definitely more archetypes than individuals with unique traits: Megan, the hard-drinking lusty wild child; Samantha the uptight lost soul pretending nonchalance; Dominic, the hipster punk wondering why every woman turns crazy after three weeks; and Christian, the ... well, the Christian. Even Jeff, our hero, falls into the archetype of pretentious cynic in need of his own reality check, coming here in the shape of Aleque Reid's down-to-earth budding filmmaker Jenny (also an archetype), working backstage at the reality show they both openly loathe. If the characters have nothing new to offer in and of themselves, they are rescued by some charming and interesting performances (especially from Heath Calvert as the empty-headed host Byron, and Rory O'Malley and Leslie Kritzer, both doing triple duty in comic supporting roles). O'Malley is a particular standout as Evan, the show's biggest fan, who live-tweets each episode in a perfectly scathing but hilarious condensation of the internet fan community today.

Aleque Reid and Rory O'Malley as Jenny and Evan: Hashtag spaz attack.
Photo by Joan Marcus.

If we are dealing with the less-than-human realm in terms of characters, perhaps it's another subtle commentary on the industry of reality dating shows. But I found myself not minding, even as I noticed this. Had the show overstayed its welcome and run longer than 90 minutes, it might have been a problem. But, with a witty book by Itamar Moses, and fun, if musically unmemorable songs by Moses and Gaby Alter, we enjoy the excursion, vicariously living through the humiliation of public heartbreak, grateful that we haven't yet succumbed to submitting our own audition to the next reality show ... yet.

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