Review by Kathleen Campion
It’s fair to say the plays of Charles Mee are an acquired taste.
The director’s note in the Playbill of First Love, at the Cherry Lane, explains that Mee places these characters in the world of Magritte: an artist for whom “Everything we see hides another thing.”
Michael O’Keefe and Angelina Fiordellisi are the daring duo who take on the mantle of late -in-life first love. They are daring in so many ways. They are center stage for the entire 90 minutes. Each steps to a microphone to sing a love song armed with a voice just like yours. They are shape-shifting through the stages of love — seduction, first fight, the what-ifs — with little structure around them. They are periodically visited by “the young woman” (Taylor Harvey) who is Magritte-like in that she is incongruous. Her visits provide a certain dramatic relief with a big dose of WTF?
Ultimately O’Keefe and Fiordellisi are daring in the full-frontal sense. While young buff actors seem unrestrained in peeling off, older thespians, require a fair bit of conviction that the play demands it. These seasoned actors take off most of their clothes and approach intimacy. Approaching intimacy is, I suspect, what the play is about so, fair enough.
It’s a very talky play. And here’s the hitch: They are explicating the wonders of love, of first-love, of just-in-time-love, of the-rest-of-our-lives love and you certainly hear it, but, you don’t ever feel it.
Fiordellisi’s Edith is on-again-off-again radiant. She somehow takes on a physical luster as she lets herself fall in love. She drives the relationship. Edith so wants to believe this is happening that she makes us believe — here and there. O’Keefe’s Harold is another story, played with less abandon. You never believe he is all-in. Presumably, you are meant to see him as a hold out.
First Love has the absurdist feel of Albee’s Seascape with all of its irksomeness and little of its charm.
So, should you go to see First Love? There are a lot of ifs. If you see a lot of theater and you want to see something odd and edgy, this might do it for you. If you want a taste of downtown theater with a whiff of the bizarre, consider it. If you want a rollicking good time in the theater, maybe not. It is interesting but not satisfying.
First Love — By Charles Mee; directed by Kim Weild.
WITH: Michael O’Keefe (Harold), Angelina Fiordellisi (Edith), Taylor Harvey (Young Woman).
Designed by Edward Pierce; costumes by Theresa Squire; lighting by Paul Miller; sound by Christian Frederickson; produced by Julie Crosby; production manager is Sean Gorski at the Cherry Lane Theatre, 38 Commerce Street, Manhattan through July 8. Running time: 90 minutes no intermission.