Patrick Romano stars as James, a nuclear scientist who proposes to Lynn (Eileen Cella), the daughter of Sen. Joe McCarthy, in Act II Playhouse’s production of “Red Herring,” on stage at Act II Playhouse in Ambler through Nov. 19. (Photo by Mark Garvin)

By Rita Charleston

Three love stories, plus a murder mystery and a nuclear espionage plot, form the basis of Philadelphia playwright Michael Hollinger’s noir comedy,”Red Herring,” now at Act II Playhouse, 56 E. Butler Ave. in Ambler, through Nov. 19.

David Bradley directs six actors who play 18 roles, although most of the action centers primarily on three couples. One of those couples is Maggie, a tough lady gumshoe, and her boyfriend, Frank, a G-man trying to crack a Soviet spy case. The next couple consists of Andrei, a Russian fisherman and spy, and his landlord and mistress, Mrs. Kravitz. And finally there’s Lynn, who just happens to be the daughter of Sen. Joe McCarthy, and her fiance James, a nuclear physicist working for the army while smuggling H-bomb secrets to the Russians.

The play is set in 1952, a period bursting with both post-war confidence and political paranoia. Fear was further stoked by the McCarthy hearings and America’s growing standoff with the Soviets. Actor, writer, director and teacher Patrick Romano plays James, who describes the play as having “an amazing amount of funny subplots centering on a murder mystery and nuclear espionage.

“But the show,” he insists, “is really about these three relationships and marriage, all of which can be messy but successful if the people involved keep working to make it a success. We realize there is no perfect marriage.”

Romano, who grew up in Wynnewood, attended St. Joe’s Prep School and then the University of Pennsylvania, where he majored in International Relations, admitting at the time he wasn’t quite sure what career path to follow. “For two summers I worked for politicians, first in Washington and then in Pennsylvania. But I didn’t feel fulfilled. I didn’t find the work satisfying. So I decided to switch to acting and the arts.

“All my life I had been a baseball player, but while I was a St. Joe’s I got a role in ‘Sweeney Todd.’ It was just something to do. But in all my life I had never felt anything like this before. I had done some plays and musicals in school when I was younger, but this was entirely different. I felt that everyone in this play was entirely invested in it. And so was I. We all worked toward making it a true success.”

So Romano put his all into a burgeoning acting career. At the University of Pennsylvania he joined the Mask and Wig Club, the country’s oldest all-male comedy troupe. Graduating in 2016, today the 23-year-old has worked and performed for the Philly Fringe Festival and appeared in productions at the Walnut Street Theatre, the Arden, Quintessence and others. He’s also worked before at Act II as an actor and as part of the creative team, appearing both on stage and off. Today he is engaged in some form of the arts full-time and insists he wouldn’t have it any other way.

“I believe that if you have the ability, the tenacity, the passion and the energy to make it happen, you will succeed in this business,” Romano insists. “I think anyone can make it happen if they have the drive, so I say to stay positive and just go for it!”

Tickets are $29 to $43. For more information, call 215-654-0200.