Variety - Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Love Loves a Pornographer

 (Inside the Ford, 99 seats; $20 top)

A Circle X Theater Company presentation of a play in two acts by Jeff Goode. Directed by Jillian Armenante.
Rev. Miles Monger - Jim Anzide
Millicent Monger - Johanna McKay
Lady Lillian Loveworthy - Gillian Doyle
Lord Loveworthy - William Salyers
Emily Loveworthy - Kathleen Rose Perkins
Earl Kant - Matt Ford
Fennimore - Weston Nathanson
Legit and TV scripter Jeff Goode has fashioned a faux British Victorian farce that is as linguistically bracing as it is thematically convoluted. The ponderous plot shifts finally overwhelm the efforts of a capable ensemble that impressively serves up Good's arched barbs and ripostes. Helmer Jillian Armenante can't decide whether to play it for character or caricature and succeeds at neither. Meanwhile, Gary Smoot's gargantuan, impeccably detailed English country-manor parlor setting -- though impressively wrought -- practically overwhelms the onstage shenanigans.

Set during a single afternoon's high tea, the central action focuses on the contentious interactions between highly successful novelist Lord Loveworthy (William Salyers) and his next-door neighbor, London Times literary critic and local vicar the Rev. Miles Monger (Jim Anzide). Loveworthy's need for Monger to favorably review his soon-to-be-published tome and Monger's sneering dismissal of the author's talent sets the stage for some juicy mano-a-mano exchanges.

When Loveworthy retaliates against his tormentor, assailing Monger's literary skills, Monger proclaims, "I am not a failed writer; I am a critic." Loveworthy responds, "Are not the two synonymous?"

Although the thrust of Goode's thematic throughline is dependent upon the Loveworthy/Monger dealings to a great extent, Armenante fails to put them on the same playing field. Salyers exudes sublime Noel Coward-esque haughty reserve and deadpan comic timing; Anzide's hyper physical and verbal posturings are more suitable to a music hall pantomime. One example is Monger's constant verbal thrusting of his venue, the Times, directly out to the audience. This obvious effort to elicit yocks becomes tedious in its overuse.

The satellites to the central duo -- the vicar's wife, Millicent Monger (Johanna McKay); Lady Lillian Loveworthy (Gillian Doyle); her daughter Emily (Kathleen Rose Perkins); and her fiance, Earl Kant (Matt Ford) -- become main characters in the various subplots that proliferate throughout this legiter.

Doyle projects a perfect balance of social transcendence and emotional vulnerability as the lady of the manor whose secret life turns out to be the inspiration for Lord Loveworthy's alternative literary career. McKay is impressive as the sexually repressed Millicent but often overreaches in her effort to hit all of Millicent's comic punchlines.

Perkins delights as the once proper English daughter who has become thoroughly Americanized by her frontiersman fiance, Kant. Ford's earthy Wild West persona is a workable sight gag within the cavernous environs of the ultra-stuffy manor setting, but Kant would be a more effective interactive character if Ford more adroitly picked up his cues. Weston Nathanson's cliche of the proper English butler Fennimore also suffers from dialogue lag.

"Love Loves a Pornographer" contains the farcical seedlings of a successful legiter but needs some serious rethinking and reworking to move on to the next level.

Sets, Gary Smoot; costumes, Paul Spadone; lighting, Karl Gajdusek; sound, Armenante; stage manager, Mel Stone. Opened Nov. 17. Reviewed Nov. 18. Runs through Jan. 20. Running time: 2 HOURS.