Kurt Vonnegut wants us to know that the true path to understanding who we are lies in understanding how and whom we love.
“Who Am I This Time? (& Other Conundrums of Love),” the sweet and gentle look at romance and relationships that opened Friday at Circle Theatre, is a stage adaptation of stories by Vonnegut, the sort of unofficial poet laureate for the muddled mess known as the 1960s, by contemporary playwright Aaron Posner (you may have seen another one of his shows, “Stupid ... Bird,” at Stage West in recent weeks).
It takes us into the intersecting lives of three couples in order to better comprehend the infinitely complex question of how can men and women get along.
Our narrator and guide through this emotional minefield is Tom Newton (Patrick Bynane), a bathroom fixtures salesman and devoted husband to Kate Newton (Sherry Jo Ward). We get to know this couple in the play’s setting of the early 1960s, and also meet them long before, when their romance was just blooming. Matthew Holmes and Julie K. Rhodes play those young Newtons.
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The action is set in a small town community theater, where Tom is trying to put up a production of “A Streetcar Named Desire.” Weaving in and out of his life and show are a young couple, Harry Nash (Jeff Wittekiend) and Helene Shaw (Rhodes again), and a tormented writer, George Murra (Thomas Ward), and his movie star wife, the glamorous Gloria Hilton (Marisa Diotalevi).
The structure of this romantic comedy makes it very thorough in its approach. It examines young love (Harry and Helene), time-worn married love (the Newtons), love in need of a change (George and Gloria) and familial love (George and his estranged son, John).
The overall vibe of the show, deftly directed by Steven Pounders, is as simple and nostalgic as the yellowing pages of a dusty copy of “Reader’s Digest,” and as folksy as a production of “Our Town.”
We think of Vonnegut’s heyday as being filled with angst and turmoil. But his show reminds us that, in the early part of the 1960s, America still wanted to look and act like an episode of “Leave It To Beaver.” So this show comes off as something Norman Rockwell might have penned if he had been a writer rather than a painter.
Posner makes the characters and situations taken from Vonnegut’s pages work nicely on the stage, despite their sources being purely literary. A good example is Harry, an extremely shy and socially maladroit person off stage, but a highly talented and totally extroverted actor when he is given any character to play in the town’s theater production.
His interactions with the love-struck Helene are especially funny when the pair are presented in scenes from Tennessee Williams’ famous gumbo of passion and madness.
The acting in this production is as strong as the writing. There is not a weak link in the ensemble. Almost all the players take on multiple roles, and do them all well.
Bynane deserves a special pat on the back for carrying so much of the load. Rhodes does a great job with some of the toughest emotional moments in the show. And Holmes, who is making his Circle debut in this show, makes the statement that he is an actor to watch for in the future. But everybody is good.
For some, this script may come off as a bit dated and too Hallmark Card-ish. But if you are willing to time travel a bit, and allow yourself to be taken back to simpler places and times, you won’t mind that Circle is delivering this charming little Valentine’s greeting a few weeks late.
Who Am I This Time (& Other Conundrums of Love)
- Through March 11
- Circle Theatre, 230 W. Fourth St., Fort Worth
- 817-877-3040; www.circletheatre.com