Review: I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change (AngelWalk Theatre)

Dean Hollin, Alison O'Neill, Leslie Kay, Christopher Alan Gray - Photo by Raph Nogal Photography

Toronto can explore the elusive human connection with AngelWalk Theatre’s I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change

A lot has changed in the last 20 years. I like to think that the way people relate to one other has been revolutionized thanks to some major shifts in technology. Social movements, online slacktivism and even our clipped computer-based chit-chat instead of long-winded phonecalls or “electronic mails” has produced a new breed of social networking. Every day I’m bombarded with stories of how impossible relationships thrive and how overcoming social adversity produces the richest results. These feel-good news stories challenge expectations of what is expected of us to the point of redefining the definition of success. I want to believe that we have evolved beyond conforming to an antiquated ideal to paving our own way to find true happiness (and maybe, love).Eighteen years ago, however, when I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change was first produced, this wasn’t the case. Watching Angelwalk Theatre Company’s campy musical all about the trials and tribulations of dating transported me to an anxiety-producing time-warp where self-hating women exchanged strategies on how to snag a sympathetic husband and men bumped bellies in between brewskies, while praising their inherent laziness and poor hygiene. Someone please tell me that this is no longer how the world works. Anyone?

My guest for the evening, Carly – who I would describe as politically active, queer and not a huge proponent of heteronormativity – described I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change simply as “a musical about stupid choices that people continue to make on purpose”. I recoiled at the thought of the life trajectory described in this piece, which lauded partnership and procreation over career advancement or deviation of any kind from a two-parent, white-picket, kids, dog and mortgage model. It didn’t seem representational of real life for us, not even for anyone we knew.

The show was well-cast, well staged and polished. The four performers were very strong, doing their best to bring humanity into the two-dimensional writing. The show was woven together by a series of vignettes which poked fun at the dating game. Each scene represented a different aspect of the lovers’ deut: getting ready, the first date, making the first move, tying the knot, having kids, raising a family, growing old.

Alison O’Neill’s second act opener “Always a Bridesmaid” was powerful and charismatic. Christopher Alan Gray’s rendition of “The Baby Song” – all about how having kids has softened his lexicon into nonsense syllables and whiney inflection – was side-splitting. Leslie Kay’s monologue about recording a video message for a dating website evoked a sketch from long-defunct MadTV. Given the material, she made a valiant effort. But we just aren’t in 1996 anymore.

In fairness, my date and I agreed that we are not the target demographic of I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change. We are simply not the frustrated thirty-something desperate for a partner at any cost. We don’t believe that relationships are little more than a hopeless jumble of idiosyncrasies, emotional distance and sacrifice. And watching the series of Seinfeld-like vignettes about choosing the right outfit or lying about how you really feel made us feel disheartened and excluded.

We asked other audience members with different backgrounds for their take on the show. The people we spoke to didn’t feel misrepresented so much as uninspired. “I saw other audience members laughing,” said one man, indicating that despite his so-so impression, it must have struck a chord with someone. Another described the piece as “painful” because it painted a pretty awkward picture of what “being a grown up” is supposed to be.

Director Evan Tsitsias wrote in the program notes:

“I dare you not to recognize yourself or someone you know in almost every moment in this show. Yes, some of the references may be dated, but every character in this piece is searching for love and that elusive human connection – and that will never go out of style.”

 

While I agree that love and the ‘elusive human connection’ will always be an important theme in our lives, how that desire is realized and expressed will continue to flex and bend as time goes on. Who can say what the delicate dance of dating and partnership will entail twenty years from now?

Carly and I shook our heads as we left the theatre. This was a great production of a dated, redundant play too old to be current and too young to be innocuous.

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