Thursday, August 25, 2016

Don't Go Breaking My Heart (review)

Spoilers ahoy!

I've had the good fortune of seeing three previous comedies written and directed by Any Shultz, so I approached viewing Don't Go Breaking My Heart with confidence, even pleasure.  When comedies fail, it feels especially awkward.  The silence becomes louder than any gunshot.  Likewise you know a comedy works by echo of laughter in your own ears.

Good news!  I suffered no disappointment at all.  What I did find was a series of surprises--because Shultz does that.  He surprises us with a kind of zany twist on reality, but with a genuine heart behind it all, even at his most farcical.

Although Don't Go Breaking My Heart does not qualify as a farce.  Rather, I'd dub it a romantic comedy--thankfully one that avoids all the cliches plaguing the genre, especially in terms of films.

We begin in the home of Alan (Stephen Anthony Bailey) and his lovely, geeky wife Diane (Emma Chandler).  It is poker night, so Alan's best friend Jeff (Jon Christie)  is joining Diane's brother Mark (Javier Melgar Santovena) in the garage--because Jeff is no longer welcome in the house.  Calling this character a bull in the china shop that is his friends' (and his own) lives captures his personality pretty well.  He causes trouble.  He says things people shouldn't say.  By most standards he is a loser--not least because that summer job at a theme park at minimum wage remains his only source of income years later.  No wonder his wife Susan (Ilona Kulinska) wants a divorce!

Of course Susan is joining Diane in a get-together in the house, which results in one of a seemingly endless gyre of complications--the open conspiracy to not let these two know the other is present!  Adding to the brew--two more couples.  Mary (Samantha Grace Peterson) and Steven (Adam Messana) just moved into the neighborhood--squeaky clean to a degree just inside the bounds of reality.  Then there's cheerful, pretty Becky (Brianne Mammana) and her reluctant boyfriend Joe (Christopher Jewell Valentin) who knows with looming horror Becky expects a proposal any time now.  Believe me, the permutations possible with these ingredients bubble forth, with hilarious results!  And it bears noting a major reason remains how the characters remain real, remain not caricatures but living breathing people--silly, stupid, wise, flawed, delightful and infuriating people.

But wait, you may ask, didn't I say this was not a farce?  Yet the description sure sounds like one, doesn't it?

I know.  And no, this is not a farce--despite having the ingredients of one.  Rather it remains a romcom in the same vein as a lighter, zanier version of Love Actually.  Because in a farce one nearly always laughs at the people, at their foolishness and whether they have anything like a happy ending largely depends on the tone.  Don't Go Breaking My Heart is all about couples connecting, which makes it a romantic comedy, a remarkably successful one.  Each of these couples--and Mark kinda/sorta ends up part of one after he meets a Minister (Tom Jones)--undergo a quite funny trial by fire.  Each confronts issues arising from their personalities, from mistakes and assumptions made, finding hope in self-awareness and emotional courage.

Which could be maudlin as hell.  Instead, the script and actors together offer what too often gets little serious attention--the charm and importance of the ordinary.  Maybe that is why tragedies have historically so often been about the powerful in our society, but comedies increasingly deal with our neighbors, our classmates and the like.  The fellowships of the mundane, where the vast majority of human happiness and misery take place.  Not a huge drama about an arrest for murder, but the repercussions of a discovered lie between people who love one another. Not madness, but the frantic efforts of someone trying not to admit they have failed big time.  All, in this case, with a light and loving touch that looks unwincingly but also forgives.

Don't Go Breaking My Heart plays Thursdays at 8:30pm and Sundays at 7pm until August 28. 2016 at the Archway Theatre, 10509 Burbank Blvd. North Hollywood CA 91601.

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