Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

July 25, 2016

Romance Novels for Dummies

Williamstown Theatre Festival, Williamstown, MA
through July 31, 2016
by Barbara Stroup

Photograph Daniel Rader
Within the brief span of “Romance Novels for Dummies” playwright Boo Killebrew uses her facility for dialogue to help the audience consider both serious and comedic life issues: how to survive loss, how to parent alone, how to heal and maintain a sibling’s love, and how to be oneself.  And one more thing that requires survival skills – a surprise visit from the in-laws. In this premiere at Williamstown Theatre Festival, the actors deliver all these themes with a quick pace – there is no time to get mired down in one before the next one comes along. It all works splendidly with this well-tuned ensemble and well-crafted play.

High kudos to the principals, Mary Wiseman and Ashley Austin Morris, who both shine as the sisters, Liz and Bernie. Struggling to make life work after tragedy and to overcome an old rift is only part of their challenge in contemporary New York, where Bernie’s comfortable free-spiritedness and Liz’s old school innocence collide. They are equally determined to love and to make a life for Liz’s daughter but the path to that goal is full of glitches. Ms. Wiseman’s “melt-down” brought tears. Justin Long rises to the challenge of playing three of Liz’s blind dates, most comically as the “personal trainer” and most caringly as Myron. As the in-laws, Andrew Weems and Connie Ray both bring a perfect balance of interference and loving in their all-too-brief appearances.

This premiere presentation fulfills the expectation of excellence that audiences hold for Williamstown Theatre Festival. The stage and set are used well, but lighting deserves special mention. A wall of bookcases in front of a larger “brick” wall of neighboring apartment windows sets both the urban and domestic scenes and provides  intriguing variations in lighting effects.

Boo Killebrew achieves the ultimate: the audience is left wanting to know the rest of the story, to follow these characters through the next stages of their lives and especially to hear more from this new playwright.