Trouble-laden love at first sight, crushing rejection, cold feet over a marriage proposal, the tedium of being stuck in a rut, twin-fold two-timing in the lunch hour, the biological clock count-down: all scenarios presented by US playwright John Cariani in his nine vignettes from 2010 as he explores love in many diverse forms. Each little two-hander considers how to win love or how to retain it once acquired; how you might regret that it showed up in the first place or baulk at its continued presence. Or maybe launch a search party to track it down again.
Experience of shorts and portmanteau drama suggests to me there are bound to be misses among the hits, so the question becomes: do the hits outnumber the misses? And yes they do, not least because Matter of Act Productions' co-directors Olivia Marshall and Luke Dunne, along with their cast, have injected such energy into their material that they've managed to surmount the four-square obstacle of a super-tight fortnight's rehearsal.
Cariani has imposed on himself the burden of having nine times to come up with a new twist on old situations. Sometimes he falls back upon what's not a lot more than gimmick – so in the opening show of intense lesbian love the main interest is the form (simultaneous dialogue delivery) rather than subject matter. And when a friend bearing a Peppa Pig visits a new mother submerged under nappies and crushing maternal restriction, or where a couple argue disconnectedly about having a baby, the drama doesn't reach far beyond a page or two in a childcare or relationship manual.
I thought the most successful vignettes were where our expectation of outcome was turned on its head. A singing telegram man arrives at the door and Noah Seltzer, cleverly both ebullient and embarrassed, has him deliver his good news message – or is it? A bride and groom on their wedding morning defy tradition by meeting, and rake over their marriage prospects with curdling glee. Elsewhere Cariani crams an unfeasibly dense romantic history into a chance encounter among the Walmart baked bean shelves.
The setting is supposedly rural north-east USA, though you'd hardly know it, but no matter since introspection and angst in love are in vogue just about anywhere where the natives have leisure to consider their navels. By necessity in this little venue the cast have the benefit of few props and fewer places to hide, but they make light of these pitfalls, and I applauded their flexibility in character and steadfastness in American accent. Of the four actors, consistently persuasive, Sabrina Brewer burst with controlled energy, Olivia Marshall was skilfully expressive in gesture, Eddie Chapman exuded warmth of personality and Noah Seltzer buzzed round the space like a curly-haired worker bee.
Nothing too challenging here, but teasing and fun, and given a careful and fizzing interpretation by Matter of Act.