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Off-Broadway Review

How I Fell in Love

How I Fell in Love
Photo Source: Kim T. Sharp
The conventions of romantic comedy get a bright retooling and a handsome production in Joel Fields' "How I Fell in Love." Charm, smarts, and delightful performances make the familiar terrain seem suddenly fresh.

Just as the genre's heroes and heroines are supposed to do, Fields' boy and girl meet cuteÑor at least sort of cute: They strike up a conversation in the waiting room of a psychotherapy clinic. Both are there to cure their proclivity for amorous misadventures. Nessa, a doctor doing her residency, is having an on-and-off affair with a married surgeon; Todd, a carpet installer with a degree in literature, can't get beyond first base in pursuing the opposite sex. Their conversations deepen into friendship and, despite their resistance, eventually into romance. I know you've heard that one before, but Fields' characters quickly earn palpable empathy from the audience, as they tell much of their story in direct exposition with engaging humor and detail. Fields, whose writing credits include TV's "Ugly Betty," fills out his script with brief but craftily shaped scenes infused with literate dialogue. He's aided by the effervescent performances of Polly Lee and Tommy Schrider, and you wind up liking Nessa and Todd quite a lot. You care what happens to them, and the play gives their relationship a twisty but satisfyingly sweet resolution.

Lee is nigh perfection in her portrayal of a sensitive woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown, lightening the angst with delicious comic timing. As the play takes place in Los Angeles, you might wonder about her English accent, which never gets questioned or explained. Still, it adds a certain piquancy to Lee's performance.

Schrider's dark leading-man looks make it difficult initially to believe that Todd is so unlucky in love; the actor also lacks the standup-comic persona that Todd's monologues sometimes seem to suggest. But Schrider plays the guy with such convincing sincerity that you eventually accept Todd as a loser in love, though a charming one.

Completing the cast nicely are Mark Doherty, as Nessa's vacillating and self-absorbed lover, and Roya Shanks, playing two of Todd's nonconquests.

Director Jules Ochoa uses the minuscule playing area of Abingdon's Dorothy Strelsin Theatre to maximum advantage, indicating the show's multiple locales with ease, cleverly assisted by Travis McHale's pinpoint lighting. Wilson Chin and David L. Arsenault's set decorates the theater's walls with colorful panels that provide a welcoming ambience for this pleasingly frothy confection.

Presented by and at Abingdon Theatre Company, 312 W. 36th St., NYC. Jan. 30–Feb. 13. Wed. and Thu., 7 p.m.; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 and 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m. (212) 868-2055 or Casting by William Shill.

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