Let me count the ways that love came my way last week in a dozen different performances. What stands out from On Golden Pond at the Omaha Community Playhouse, the nine playlets in From Shelterbelt with Love 11 and the Blue Man Group?
The latter first: The drum-banging blue aliens don’t speak, so they don’t say anything about love, but their twenty-something fans that helped sell out the Orpheum showed their affection by enthusiastically obeying each on-screen command to pump fists and perform all sorts of rock concert antics. By Friday, all weekend seats were sold, and that’s blue love.
Now the nine under the flashing red heart with “FSWL” in lights: It starts with Fighting Mr. Right where Kate Simmons plays a woman who wants love, even wild sex, but to prove Jesse Hapke’s character won’t love and leave her, insists the sex romps must wait until they’ve survived three fights. He obliges.
Amy Lane’s play Rosemilk makes Matt Hemingway a difficult blind date who insists on planting his ear on Devin Tumpkin’s chest to hear what her heart is saying. A writer who hopes her palpitating heart will give him something to write about, he insists she’s an artist, not a secretary. What is her heart saying? Well, if you guess the most likely thing a heart would say, you’ll probably be right.
The love of a longtime fan, now ailing, for a car dealer once known as “The Fabulous Frank Jay,” takes a sentimental turn where playwright Richard Klein surprises us in An Old Album by not surprising us with any twisty gimmicks. Just sad and sweet.
Just the opposite came from the slightest and shortest of the nine, An Only Slightly Foreign Domestic Issue. Liz Mulhern’s first playwriting effort was almost all about the punch line that followed after two bed partners fought over his bundling up in 78-degree heat. Love came in when he promised support for her unusually lengthy pregnancy.
Mulhern, most often seen acting in the love plays, made up for its shortcomings by directing two of the evening’s best, Pigeons in Love and Circle Dance. Jay Huse can’t stand the cooing, wing-flapping, lovemaking and ledge-crapping birds, and his rage against the pigeons keeps Colleen O’Doherty from reading. So pigeon love soils their relationship.
And Mulhern has Kate Simmons and Michael Lane circling and delivering lines with impeccable pace and timing. When Kate gets dizzy from their rapid circling it might be love. Or not. If forced to pick a top playlet, this is it. If I had to pick an actor new to me who made the strongest impression, it would be Lane.
Julia Hinson directed the last three, finishing with the funniest play of the evening, Four Dry Tongues, where she won spot-on performances from O’Doherty, Hapke, Myles Dabb and Liah Burke. It’s much less about love than lust, with Hapke the primary lust object.
So where did the best of love come in? In one of the best stage love stories of the past half century, On Golden Pond. It has the most memorable term of endearment.
I’ve seen some wonderful couples play Norman and Ethel Thayer. Not just Fonda and Hepburn, but Norm and Lu Filbert, and most recently Sue Perkins and Frank DeGeorge.
Dennis Collins, with his rough voice and smooth timing, and Lois Nemec, with her easy devotion to her family, did complete justice to Ernest Thompson’s love and laugh-filled script.
And it’s never more loving than when Norman, his memory beginning to fail him, admits he lost his way and was scared.
That’s when Ethel gives him a hug and that gentle term of endearment: “You old poop.”
On Golden Pond runs Jan.20-12, 7:30 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday, 2 and 6:30 p.m. Sunday on the main stage at the Omaha Community Playhouse, one block east of 69th and Dodge. Tickets are $35, $21 for students, less for groups. Call 402.553.0800 or visit omahaplayhouse.org.
From Shelterbelt with Love 11 runs Jan. 19-Feb. 12, 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, 6 p.m. Sunday Jan. 22 and 29, 2 p.m. Sunday Feb. 5 and 12 at the Shelterbelt Theatre, 3225 California. Tickets are $15, $12 students and seniors, $10 Thursdays and Sundays. Call 402.341.2757 or visit shelterbelt.org.