Romance, then and now, unfolds in new offering at North Coast Rep in Solana Beach


By Diana Saenger

Has the art of romance changed from the days when face-to-face meetings were the way to woo, to these days when social media and cell phones are the harbingers of love.

Playwright Barry Harman explores the question in “Romance, Romance,” nominated for six Tony Awards in 1988 and opening July 9 at North Coast Repertory Theatre in Solana Beach.

Director Rick Simas said he saw the show on Broadway years ago and mentioned it when NCRT Artistic Director David Ellenstein asked him if he knew a good musical to add to this season. Simas has directed many plays at NCRT, including “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” “Dames at Sea, “Man with a Load of Mischief,” as well as assorted others at local and national venues.

Simas earned a Ph.D. in Dramatic Art from UC Berkeley, has been a faculty member of the American Conservatory Theatre in San Francisco, and the American Musical and Dramatic Academy in New York. For 22 years, Simas has taught in San Diego State University’s MFA Musical Theatre Program.

“This is the kind of play that theater patrons respond to,” he said. “It’s a unique two-act musical. The first act is based on French writer Arthur Schnitzler’s one-act play, ‘The Little Comedy,’ set in late 19th century Vienna. The second act is based on Jules Renard’s 1898 play, ‘Le pain de ménage” or ‘Household Bread,’ updated by Barry Harman to the late 1980s and set in the Hamptons.

The plot of “Romance, Romance” centers on two married couples in their 30s, who are spending a summer together in a rented cottage, and who eventually find themselves shifting from harmless flirtations with opposite spouses to possible affairs. The second act is modernized to today, since cell phones and social media have made such an impact on relationships.

North Coast Rep Romance advance 1Simas points out that in the past, when people wrote letters to each other, as during WWII, they got to know each other even better through those written communications.

“You were able to reveal more because you didn’t have a face-to-face conversation and could really open up and say what you felt,” Simas said. “ ‘Romance, Romance’ dives into the difference between friendship, marriage, romance, love lost, love rekindled, and keeping love alive in a relationship in 1988 when no cell phones or social media were around. We do this with a remarkable cast — Jeffrey Scott Parsons, Lance Arthur Smith, Jill Townsend and Melissa Wolfklain, and wonderful, creative dance numbers by teaching artist, choreographer and my collaborator, Jill Gorrie.”

Gorrie’s credits include national and international work, and NCRT plays. She was Resident Director-Choreographer-Casting Associate of the international production of “Grease.”

Gorrie earned her BFA degree in Dance from NYU/Tisch School of the Arts, and her MFA degree in Musical Theatre from San Diego State University. Gorrie has been a faculty member of the American Musical and Dramatic Academy and CAP21 in New York, and has taught master dance classes throughout the country and Europe. Simas describes her as “an amazing dancer with a great vocabulary of styles.

“Everyone will enjoy the musical numbers,” Simas promised. “In the first act are two big numbers — a masquerade waltz and a polka. A jazz quartet opens act two and two decrepit people on walkers do a big tap number.”

Although it’s a big challenge to presents songs of different eras for different actors in an intimate space, Gorrie drove right into the task. “I start with research of the time period and where it takes place, and focus on the vernacular dance steps of that time,” she said. “Fortunately, we have amazing archives here at the theater. I also look at videos and DVDs from different times.”

Gorrie hopes the music by Keith Herrmann with more current songs will draw a younger crowd to the see the play. Yet she agrees there’s something for everyone in this show.

“The first act will appeal more to the more mature audience – although they will also enjoy the second one,” she said. “The younger crowd will relate more to the second act because we are incorporating the new technology of my generation, which should have the mature patrons laughing.” •

If you go:

“Romance, Romance” runs July 9-11 at North Coast Repertory Theatre; 987 Lomas Santa Fe Drive, Solana Beach. Tickets: $31-$57. (858) 481-1055.