By BRUCE DENNILL
I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change / Directed by Elizma Badenhorst / Pieter Torien’s Montecasino Theatre, Fourways, Johannesburg
Versions of the men-versus-women, Mars-Venus, defense of the caveman story have filled the pages of literature, screenplays and scripts for as long as creative types have been able to write them down. Over time, the trope has become depressingly predictable and unsophisticated, from the ploddingly hackneyed comedians who include snippets on the subject in their sets to the puddle-deep “sophistication”of the Sex & The City sorts who believe that Carrie Bradshaw is a worthwhile role model when it comes to matters of the heart as they play out in real life (not the HBO version).
What a magnificent thing it is, then, when the topic is redeemed. And how surprising it is when this redemption comes in the shape of a play and writing that is a touch over two decades old. I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change may, because of its vintage, be suspected of being out of date. And yet, watching it in 2016, in the era of Tinder and the steady denigration of marriage as a concept, much less an ideal, it feels like the first show in years that captures any of the pathos involved when emotions are deeply felt (not just love, but also friendship, or sadness, or profound loneliness), and then delivers that difficult package wrapped in a veneer of near-constant belly laughs.
This is a show that has endured because of superb writing, both in the dialogue shared between its four protagonists – two men and two women – and in the lyrics (all words are by Joe Dipietro) set to Jimmy Roberts’ music. Everything still works. Every barb hits home. And every punchline. The latter are all the more enjoyable because they’re often not the obvious option to take, allowing for the fuller development of characters who may only be on stage for a matter of a few minutes.
It would be the case, then, that any competent cast could entertain an audience with this material. But this production is not merely entertaining – it’s riotous, technically impeccable and, unexpectedly, edifying.
The cast – Neels Clasen, Taryn-Lee Hudson, Brandon Lindsay and Claire Taylor – are perfectly matched to their roles, which is saying something given that they each play numerous characters. Whether the men are playing macho clichés (the song Why, Cause I’m A Guy could be whole-heartedly sung by Gaston from Beauty And the Beast without changing a word or any of its phrasing) or babbling new dads; men whose place of peace is in their car or husbands understanding that time has not dimmed their love for their wives, the alternately muscular and goofy Lindsay and the sometimes brash, sometimes sensitive Clasen cover all the bases. And whether the women are embodying too-busy executives with no time for companionship or awkward nerds; aged widows or embarrassing bridesmaids, the deadpan, incisive Hudson and the pure-voiced, gently appealing Taylor do likewise, with Hudson’s take on the song Always A Bridesmaid (and its accompanying dance moves) a rare, precious moment of 10/10 theatre.
The first act will test your cheek and belly muscles as you struggle to find a moment to recover between guffaws. The second act is not as funny, but it is beautifully layered, with Shouldn’t I Be Less In Love With You, The Very First Dating Video Of Rose Ritz and I Can Live With That are perfectly pitched and delicately heartbreaking, leaving you feeling happy but brittle as you leave the theatre.
If this cast can maintain the level of intensity and the precision with which they hit every mark on opening night, it’s doubtful that any future production could improve on what they achieve here.