The barefoot wild child with the Technicolor hair chiding him to chill out. The prissy nerd with the bowtie and glasses sniffing disapprovingly at her disheveled life. If you’ve seen an “opposites attract” romcom in the last, oh, forty years, you’ve seen the opening scene of Lindsay Price’s “Drinking Perfume,” where two people who couldn’t appear to be more different are thrust together to argue about how different they are, before finally giving in to mutual attraction, cue the hot stage kiss and scene.
Fans of Neil Simon, particularly the comedies like “Barefoot in the Park,” will find the meet-cute opposites-attract premise of “Drinking Perfume” familiar and welcoming, but Price tweaks the well-known tropes here (uptight guy and free-spirited gal meet in the middle, fall in love) enough to find the original heart beating beneath.
“Drinking Perfume” made its world premiere last night at The Bard’s Town Theatre. It runs through June 29 in the theater upstairs from the restaurant. The play was selected for the company’s Bard Award from hundreds of submissions and was named a runner-up for the Bloomington Playwrights Project’s Reva Shiner Comedy Award last year.
Company member Beth Tantanella makes her solid directorial debut with this briskly-paced two-hander that showcases the considerable comedic talents of April Singer and Sean Keller. They play pink-haired slob Claudie and fussy bowtied Stan, two strangers who find themselves in the un-seen character Beth’s house (the one thing they can be sure they have in common) when she’s not there. Both convinced the other is intruding, they turn on each other until mysterious third parties – including Beth herself – start to interrupt.
Price turns the irritating male fantasy of the manic pixie dream girl on its ear, as Claudie doesn’t actually begin appealing to Stan until her frivolous trappings start to slip. And Stan, for his part, isn’t just a nerd who secretly hasn’t seen “Star Wars.” It turns out they have more in common than a favorite film, and both have worked hard to get where they are.
Singer is one of Louisville’s most appealing (and chronically underutilized) comedic actresses, and I’m happy to see her in a starring vehicle where her off-kilter energy can really shine. Even when Claudie is taunting or threatening Stan, Singer keeps a vulnerable sweetness bubbling just under the surface, never quite out of sight. Keller, who works primarily in film and stand-up circles, including the popular fictional character roasts held at The Bard’s Town, plays Stan in cartoonish broad strokes that make him genuinely off-putting at first – a risk most romcoms won’t take. But Keller slowly relaxes his body as Stan lets down his guard with Claudie, and the authentic character surfaces.
As in any zany, dialog-heavy comedy, there are several minor subplots introduced to give the characters depth and context, and it’s not really clear why some are resolved (a lingering ex-boyfriend, an irate client) while others just fade away (a devastated ex-lover, a lie about who’s dating whom). But “Drinking Perfume” isn’t really about the ending, which we can see coming a mile away. It’s about the journey Claudie and Stan make to take us there.