Terri  Bateman and Bonnie Kapenstein star in “Looking,” a character study of four lonely, quirky people finding it’s not too late for love. More information at www.oldacademyplayers.org or 215-843-1109. (Photo by Jim Pifer)

Terri Bateman and Bonnie Kapenstein star in “Looking,” a character study of four lonely, quirky people finding it’s not too late for love. More information at www.oldacademyplayers.org or 215-843-1109. (Photo by Jim Pifer)

by Hugh Hunter

Canadian playwright Norm Foster has a knack for capturing the malaise of ordinary people. “Looking” (2005), now running at Old Academy Players in East Falls, is an affecting romantic comedy about the struggle to find love and enduring relationships.

At the gym, Andy and Matt have a cozy boys-will-be-boys chat about scoring with women. But this casual banter only masks a deeper anxiety, their unspoken fear of approaching middle age and of finding themselves alone and unwanted.

At the same time, in another gym Val and Nina have a womanly conversation rooted in the same kind of angst. When Andy places a personal ad in the newspaper, Val responds and it leads to a blind date at a bar where the separate worlds of these four people collide.

“Looking” has eight different set changes — a bar, office locales, gyms and apartments. It reflects the rootlessness of the four characters but also presents a staging problem. Yet the design of director Christopher Wunder in combination with his lighting (Carla Childs, Nancy Frick) is so deft, the flow of events is fast-paced and seamless.

Matt and Nina try to help out their friends. In order to smooth over the awkwardness of the first meeting, they go along with them to the bar and make it a blind double date. They pretend to be unconcerned, but as the story unfolds, Matt and Nina are as lost and painfully alone as Val and Andy.

Jim Golden is appealing in the role of Andy, a failing small businessman who rents out storage containers. Like a Woody Allen character, he is especially gauche in the presence of women. Norman Burnosky plays his friend Matt, a jazz DJ who mutes his own problems by taking up the time-honored role of male sexual counselor.

A similar dynamic prevails between the two women. Bonnie Kapenstein stars as Val, a surgical nurse who is always genuine in expressing her distress. Terrri Bateman plays Nina, a policewoman who is a lot like Matt in posing as a self-contained person. But when Nina suddenly lays bare her hidden grief, it changes everyone’s life.

While Foster’s dialogue is amusing, he sometimes plants run-on jokes into the script and then milks them all night. For example, he names the bar “The Private Dick,” and we never hear the end of it. Foster’s chatter is better when he has his people say quirky and unexpected things that also reveal character.

“Looking” is something like the TV show, “Friends,” a romantic comedy full of good will where all the troubled characters are of equal importance and all their problems are ultimately resolvable. It helps that director Wunder fills his cast with veteran Old Academy actors who know each other well and seem to share in mutual respect.

Old Academy Players is located at 3540-44 Indian Queen Lane. “Looking” will run through Jan. 25. Reservations available at 215-843-1109.

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