A divorced couple and their new partners meet for a dinner that shakes up their lives in Peter Lefcourt's romantic comedy "The Way You Look Tonight," premiering at the Odyssey Theater under the direction of Terri Hanauer.
Teddy (Robb Derringer) and Esme (Robin Riker) haven't seen one another in four years, but their son has kept them up to date — with one major omission. Teddy knows that Esme has married Bernard (John Marzilli). Esme knows that Teddy is dating Robyn, an "upper-class Brit" and, she assumes, a woman. Her son hasn't corrected this assumption, so when Robyn (Sean Smith), actually a prim Englishman, shows up in fusty drag, Esme is left reeling.
"Nobody fully understands the exquisite perversity of the human heart," explains the play's affable narrator, Ishmael (Blake Silver), who, in a thumb-in-the-eye to received playwriting wisdom, does a lot of telling rather than showing while rearranging furniture on Celine Diano's simple set.
We never know why Ishmael is relating this tale, but he's a charming guide, helpfully slipping into other parts, such as a French waiter with a bad accent, and agreeably reiterating the message that when it comes to attraction, people just don't fit into fixed categories: We love who we love.
Agreed. But the human heart under investigation here doesn't seem all that perverse. Teddy's apparent homosexuality bewilders his ex-wife, who knew him as a womanizer (a running gag is that he cheated on her only twice in 16 years, a record, many characters opine, that qualifies him for sainthood). At the same time, his rapport with Robyn completely lacks heat. Robyn, who has the air of a melancholy British nanny, is written and played for laughs, so it's difficult to take the couple seriously. It's not even clear that their relationship is sexual. (It is "in a sense," Teddy allows under interrogation.) We could probably handle it if it were.
And despite all the time spent on it — including one or two too many scenes set in a women's restroom — this whole storyline turns out to be a red herring anyway.
The plot takes a more conventional turn with the rekindling of passion between Teddy and Esme, whose outfits are much sexier than Robyn's (Shannon Kennedy designed the costumes). The scenes of their sneaking around behind their suspicious mates' backs are lively. Riker has great timing, and Marzilli uses his range of suggestive leers to make the most of a thin part.
But the final showdown — in the French restaurant with no other customers and a single table — is disappointingly inconclusive, as though Lefcourt, a prolific TV writer, playwright and novelist, simply got tired of the antics he'd set in motion.