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Stolen hearts: Burgler Molly (Jody Flader) and bungler Beane (Darren Bridgett) find love after felony.

Crazy 'Love'

MTC's complex season opener is a sweet, sexy surprise.

By David Templeton

In love and in life, you cannot always judge a thing by its appearances—or by its name. John Kolvenbach's Love Song, which just opened a month-long run at the Marin Theatre Company, is such a case. That name, Love Song, is much too generic and uninspired a title for a show this fresh and clever and original, a truly wonderful play that positively glows with inspiration, invention and wonder.

Some plays work slowly on viewers, who may gradually come to appreciate the show as they reflect back upon it and consider its images, methods and messages. Other plays are love at first sight. For this reviewer, MTC's new show—the exuberant kick-off to the company's 2007–2008 season—is definitely the latter. I have fallen in love with Love Song.

Beane (Darren Bridgett) is an odd little man, an innocent, thoughtful, overly fearful guy whose grasp of reality is growing a bit weak after years of monumental loneliness. In his tiny apartment, which he keeps appallingly free of belongings ("I don't trust objects," he explains), his world is growing smaller by the day, and darker, too; the lamps seem to fade when he grows near.

His sister, Joan (Julia Brothers), is similar, but in a different way. Uptight and easily irritated, she rails at the small inconveniences of life, while her genially cynical husband, Harry (Steve Irish), spars verbally with her as an antidote to the boredom and predictability of their marriage. When Beane visits, they barely notice his arrival, and when he departs, it takes ages before they realize he's gone. As to the rest of the world, Beane is essentially invisible—even to himself.

Boldly written with a singular sense of dialogue that is revealing and clear-sighted while staying one step removed from ordinary speech, the play demonstrates Kolvenbach's unique facility for sharp language and sneaky-weird poetic emotionality. The production features a clever set by Eric E. Sinkkonen and excellent lighting and sound design by Kurt Landisman and Steve Schoenbeck, respectively.

Smartly and playfully directed by MTC's artistic director Jasson Minadakis, the show features a strong cast capable of playing the extremes without losing the sweet and silly humanity at the core of every character. Especially strong is Darren Bridgett, a regular at MTC and one of the finest actors currently working in the Bay Area. His ability to play several disparities at once—pain and sweetness, despair and humorousness, fear and hope—makes Beane's incredible journey a thing of wonder.

Everything changes when Beane discovers a burglar ransacking his apartment. Molly (a wonderful Jody Flader) is a wild woman, simultaneously fierce and funny, dangerous and strangely appealing. She is given to grandiose pronouncements and cut-to-the-bone observations about Beane's shabby existence. "Is this all you own?" she wants to know. "Who lives like this?" Though initially terrified, Beane finds himself strangely moved by this offbeat encounter, and after she's gone, with his few belongings carried off in a plastic bag, Beane finds that he has fallen head-over-heels in love with his bizarre burglar.

The change is immediate. To Joan's alarm—she assumes her brother has finally lost his mind—Beane is suddenly thrilled to be alive, aware of sights, sounds and tastes he's never noticed, reveling in the simple joy of a turkey sandwich while expounding on the powers of sexual attraction and given to talking to his empty room, pining for the return of the terrifying woman who stole his heart. When she finally does reappear, informing him that she sold all of his stuff for a mere $6 ("I bought a hamburger with it. I ate it standing up"), Beane takes a chance and declares his love.

What follows is a series of delicious surprises, pessimistically hopeful conversations and complexly simplistic observations about life and love. With Beane's transformation into a person willing to risk all for love, even his own life and sanity, Joan and Harry are also altered, cautiously emboldened to introduce some long-absent playfulness to their own marriage, willing at last to go a little crazy in pursuit of a love that really matters.

'Love Song' runs Tuesday–Sunday through Sept. 30. Tuesday and Thursday–Saturday at 8pm; Wednesday at 7:30pm; Sunday at 2pm and 7pm; also Sept. 29 at 2pm. Sept. 20, preshow lecture; Sept. 23 at 6pm, Out and About reception for LGBT community. $20–$50; Tues, pay what you can. Marin Theatre Company, 397 Miller Ave., Mill Valley, 415.388.5208.

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