Off-Broadway Review: Founder’s Project’s “First Love”

David Roberts

  • Chief New York Theatre Critic

With a nod to magical realism, Edward Albee’s “Zoo Story,” and a splash of the surreal – specifically the world of René François Ghislain Magrritte – Charles Mee provides a mostly realistic narrative about the experiences of an older couple who fall in love for the first time. Currently running at Cherry Lane Theatre, Mr. Mee’s “First Love” is a kaleidoscopic montage of the emotional fallout when Harold (Michael O’Keefe) meets Edith (Angelina Fiordellisi) on a park bench. This is not the most pleasant of meetings. Harold, having given up on love or any approximation to love, is asleep on that bench. Edith arrives and immediately instructs Harold to “shove up” so she and her radio can occupy the same bench.

Harold relents and, after Edith joins him, he accepts her offer of a sip of sherry and the pair engage in conversation about the opera, the symphony, having lost a lot when they lost communism and the opposition, dying from neglect and indifference, their personal histories, former spouses, and beat poets – things one typically might discuss on any “first date?” Harold and Edith go back to Edith’s home and the bench becomes a couch, a table, a bed and the conversations deepen. Courting continues, there is talk of settling down and marriage, Harold and Edith have a falling out and fall out of love, and eventually decide to “start over” where they began – back on the bench.

Angelina Fiordelissi,  Michael O'Keefe and Taylor Harvey. Photo by Monique Carboni (1).jpg

Angelina Fiordellisi and Michael O’Keefe are wonderful together and give their respective characters a depth and authenticity that often rises above what they are given in Mr. Mee’s script. When the playwright excels, Ms. Fiordellisi and Mr. O’Keefe are magical in their performances. When the script weakens, as it does in some scenes, the seasoned actors still make legerdemain seem a felicitous exercise. Taylor Harvey provides convincing performances as a variety of “real” and “magical” characters and the trio gives the audience a glimpse into the vicissitudes of humanity’s attempts to find meaning and love in all its manifestations.

Kim Weild directs with the necessary allegro tempo and gives the actors plenty of room to find levels of performance and nuance of character. Edward Peirce’s set works well and allows the play’s realism to gently counterpoint with it’s surreal undertones. Theresa Squire’s delightful costumes make it clear why the couple misses Ginsberg and Ferlinghetti. And Paul Miller’s lighting and Christian Frederickson’s sound make “First Love” easy on the eye and ear.

There is only one unfortunate misstep. When one’s writing, sufficient as it is, does not approximate the rhetorical skills of an Albee, a Toni Morrison, or a Gabriel García Márquez, it might be better for Mr. Mee not to discredit one of America’s iconic theatre critics in an exchange meant somehow to celebrate the “good old days” when members of the theatre community “knew each other.” A cheap shot at a theatre critic does not make a kinder, gentler generation.

See “First Love” for what it is: a satisfying look into the eyes and minds of a couple trying to figure out what it means to be in love and what it means to have one’s life “completely changed” by another human being.

 

FIRST LOVE

“First Love” stars Angelina Fiordellisi and Michael O’Keefe.

The show will feature set design by Edward Pierce, costume design by Theresa Squire, lighting design by Paul Miller, and sound design by Christian Frederickson. Nicole Kuker serves as production stage manager. Production photos by Monique Carboni.

“First Love” runs through Sunday July 8, 2018 at Cherry Lane Theatre (38 Commerce Street) on the following performance schedule:  Wednesday at 2:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m., Thursday at 7:00 p.m., Friday at 7:00 p.m., and Saturday at 2:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. with additional performances on Monday, July 2 at 7:00 p.m., Tuesday June 12 and June 19 at 7:00 p.m. and Sunday, July 1 and July 8 at 3:00 p.m. Tickets are $65-$95 and are available at www.cherrylanetheatre.org or by calling Ovation Tix at 866-811-4111. Running time is 1 hour and 35 minutes without intermission.

Photo: Angelina Fiordellisi, Michael O’Keefe, and Taylor Harvey in “First Love.” Credit: Monique Carboni.