Arts » Theater

Cell phones interrupt the romance in Just Shy of Closure at Fourth Wall

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What with all the contemporary plays about various kinds of sexual and familial dysfunction, it's refreshing to see a playwright attempt a romantic comedy. And while local writer David Allan's 70-minute confection, Just Shy of Closure, now at Fourth Wall Productions, falls well short of stellar theater, it offers some diversions to take the chill out of an early spring evening.

The central pairing involves Elizabeth (Erin R. diLauro) and Ethan, two shy Clevelanders in their mid-twenties who have been eyeing each other since fifth grade. Now that Liz is about to head off to Seattle to get married, they've been talked into going out with each other by Elizabeth's friend Becky, who is on her own doomed blind date.

Meanwhile, Ethan's buddy Kenny is driving a guy named Matt out into the sticks, for some undisclosed reason. The guys and gals then start calling each other on their cells, an interruptive gimmick that is pretty much played in 2008.

Other than the cell phones, Allan has a couple good ideas, some tight and funny runs of dialogue, and the makings of four interesting characters. But his plot twists eventually get too unbelievable. For one, it turns out that bashful Ethan is running a lucrative gambling enterprise in which people place bets on celebrity divorces and such.

The trouble with this is that Ethan, as played by a sweaty-palmed and fumfering Dash Combs, seems too wimpy to cross the street by himself, let alone be a gambling kingpin. As pal Kenny, Michael Fluellen has some amusing moments, but he tends to use four or five changes of facial expression when one would suffice.

The women are more believable and consistent, with Carly Taylor Miluk turning in a comical gem as brash and star-crossed Becky. And director Rebecca Cole eventually brings out the sweetness of Allan's script, which almost makes up for the wrong turns it takes to get there.

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