Jeffrey Scott Parsons, Jill Townsend, Lance Authur Smith, and Melissa Wolfklain in Romance/Romance at North Coast Rep.
  • Jeffrey Scott Parsons, Jill Townsend, Lance Authur Smith, and Melissa Wolfklain in Romance/Romance at North Coast Rep.
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Romance/Romance

Turn of the century Vienna bores aristocratic Alfred to distraction. He only attracts women who fancy his outer trappings. To be loved for his “own self,” just once, he dresses down and frequents unfamiliar enclaves — where he learns, to his surprise, that the poor can’t afford perfume.

Josephine’s just as bored. A courtesan whose dreary affairs have been about “finance” not “romance,” she decides to slum too.

They meet and fall in love, though not with each other. Each creates a fictitious character — a poet, a milliner — and they fall for them. Trouble is, their roles become tiresome. A few days in a hotel on the outskirts of nowhere makes them long for what wealth alone provides. But will their trappings kill their poverty-fueled amore?

Flash forward 100 or so years to a “summer share” house in the Hamptons. Although Alfred and Josephine may have found it too far from the bright lights of the boulevards, it’s just right for Sam and Barb and Monica and Lenny, married couples in need of respite.

Unlike Alfred and Josephine, who tell their story in letters, the quartet texts, tweets, and says “awesome.”

Everyone knows that Lenny’s wife, Monica, is Sam’s best friend. But can a man and woman be best friends without a sexual attraction?

Of course they can.

Jill Townsend, Melissa Wolfklain, Lance Authur Smith, and Jeffrey Scott Parsons in Romance/Romance at North Coast Rep.

The question drives part two of Romance/Romance at the North Coast Rep. Sam and Monica ponder becoming lovers — talk about little else, in fact — as their mates ponder the fear of a follow-through.

Barry Harman based part one of Romance/Romance on a short story by Arthur Schnitzler, and part two on a play by Jules Renard. The combination — love discovered in unlikely circumstances, and a marriage sustained in spite of obstacles — makes for an always-entertaining, if slight and non-threatening, evening of theater.

Performances at North Coast Rep make the difference. Director Rick Simas and choreographer Jill Gorrie put the four-person cast through brisk, technically demanding paces, in two completely different periods.

Lance Arthur Smith gives Alfred and Sam stature and vulnerability, and sings with an impressive baritone (“Moonlight Through the Window,” in particular). Melissa Wolfklain’s a fine match as Josephine and Monica. In duets, their voices blend with precision, and both achieve an admirable rapport with the audience.

In some ways, Jeffrey Scott Parsons and Jill Townsend have more to do than the leads — on- and off-stage (since they must change Alina Bokovikova’s terrific period costumes in seconds). Parsons and Townsend sing beautifully, especially the haunting “Small Craft Warnings,” and dance their socks off, from polkas to more modern steps. They dance during scene changes (of Marty Burnett’s effective, minimalist set), and steal the show as late-senior versions of Lenny and Barb.

Gray-haired (wigs by Peter Herman) and stooped over, they enter on strollers and recall the good old days. Next thing you know, they shed the years and tap dance the light fantastic!

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