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Wednesday, February 1,2012

'Fools' rush in at Stormfield

Romance is a laughing matter in 'vaudeville' show

by Mary C. Cusack

Chalk one up for truth in advertising, as a show subtitled “A Comic Vaudeville” lives up to its promise.

From the props to the physical farce, the show is a throwback to traditional vaudeville styles, spiced up with modern-day sexual politics.

The full title of Stormfield Theatre’s production is “Romantic Fools: A Comic Vaudeville.” The work is a series of vignettes that trace the evolution of relationships from blind dates to meeting Mr./Ms. Right, concluding with matrimony. The first act focuses on the many clichés of dating and sexual politics between single people.

A cast of two, aptly named Man (Roger Ortman) and Woman (Lisa Sodman), play multiple characters. Eventually the broad characters morph from Man and Woman to Roger and Lisa, more realistic characters who deal with self-doubt as they grow toward emotional intimacy. It’s more humorous than it sounds.

It is obvious that director Rob Roznowski has great affection for the script, and has a pair of actors who fearlessly throw themselves into roles that require a complete lack of self-consciousness to be successful. Ortman and Sodman are game while playing everything from a caveman to a call girl.

The script relies on the familiar, sometimes tired Mars/Venus contrasts. As with any vaudeville show, for every amateur magician who can’t find the right card, there’s a contortionist who amazes with her ability to pull herself through a small wire hoop.

An early vignette involving Lisa’s blind date with a caveman is predictable and almost painfully goofy.

Thankfully, the material gets better and eventually allows the cast to stretch.  Sodman hits her mark as the “Nightmare in a Sexy Skirt,” bringing to life every man’s worst imaginings of a bad first date.

Playwright Rich Orloff creates the most successful gags when presenting modern clichés in the context of familiar vaudeville bits.  He hits a home run when Man gives a “Who’s on First” play-by-play of a swingers party. Abbott and Costello must be rolling in their graves — with laughter.

Ortman and Sodman hit their stride in the opening of Act Two, when they prove that a little competition is good for a relationship.

The show would seem to climax with “Vegetarians in Lust,” in which Lisa seduces Roger by talking dirty. Never have the words “Doritos” and “Cheetos” been more salacious.  

That bit is funny, but the show actually peaks when Ortman takes the stage as Groucho Marx, a wedding planner who persistently hits on his client. Ortman has mastered the speed of Marx’s clipped quips and winking nods to the audience.  

Unfortunately, after this vignette the show loses its edginess and the couple devolves into being the titular romantic fools.

The play may not end with a whimper, but it doesn’t end with a bang, either.  Save the cigarette for the next Tennessee Williams production.

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