In discreet preparation for Valentine's Day, City Theatre has unwrapped a modest but likable paean to love and romance, The 13th of Paris. Mat Smart's world premiere posits the obsessions and eccentricities of love for three separate but interrelated couples, shatters a few romantic preconceptions, and affirms the strength of true love wherever, whenever and however it is celebrated.
The title refers to one of the arrondissements, or municipal divisions of the city. The 13th is modest: no grand houses or hip shopping districts, but rather immigrant working class, with a hint of bohemia and a lively street scene -- more like a Lawrenceville.
It is in such an "unlikely" neighborhood that the grand passion of Jacques (played by Edmond Genest) and Chloe (Bridget Connors) blazes even 40 years after their deaths, and singes their adult grandson, Vincent (Matthew Dellapina). The love pouring out of a suitcase full of billets-doux not only thrills the young man, but also makes him doubt the depth and reality of his own love affair, conducted very differently, with the far-off Annie (Theo Allyn). That doubt is fed by the whirlwind visit of Annie's "friend" Jessica (Jenny Wales), who illustrates her own steamy definition of love with hubby William (Gregory Johnstone).
Led by Genest and Dellapina, the cast is charming (Connors' Gallic moue is a formidable beauty), with only occasional tugs into stereotypical Yankee gee-whiznitude and Chevalier-esque Froggery. Allyn nails the perhaps banal meaning of love with a large dose of individuality, and Wales and Johnstone team up for a bizarre "crazy comedy" interlude. Judy Gailen's set design captures the cockeyed perspective of love, in a production sensitively directed by Melia Bensussen.
Jacques tries to teach his grandson the way of a proper love letter -- if The 13th of Paris is a comedy about romance, it is as much a romance with the written word -- while Vincent learns about the very personal spaces, places and, yes, quirks, that comprise true love. Love has many guises, and the modern varieties just as much passion as the more clichéd love stories of old. The play provides no pat "happily ever after," but a satisfying glow.
The 13th of Paris continues through Feb. 17. City Theatre, 1300 Bingham St., South Side. 412.431.2489 or citytheatrecompany.org
- John Schisler
- In vino veritas: Matthew Dellapina (left) and Jenny Wales in City Theatre's The 13th of Paris.