I never liked romantic comedies; beautiful size four starlets that are, inexplicably, single, meet cutes that would never happen in reality, implausible obstacles, montages set to pseudo-indie music, and happy endings that set unrealistic expectations for those mad enough to imagine the former is even possible. Thankfully, we have ‘Play, Actually: A Non-Rom Com.’
Starring Tim Monley as Gavin and Katy Houska as Suzy, we are taken on an absurd and darkly comic sixty minute tour of shattered expectations, unexpected hook-ups, personal disappointment, obsession, and, for those not allergic, packaged peanuts. Oh, and did I mention a trio of life-sized, inflatable erotic dolls?
While for a more mature audience, Monley and Houska take us on a scathing and rather tongue-in-cheek look at modern courtship. Gifted and observant comics, they steer clear of outright cynicism and pessimism with a series of sketches each devoted to the thorniest aspects of Everlasting Love. Interaction with the audience and the occasional breaking of the fourth wall feel natural and unrehearsed. This is not to say that it is poorly done or aimless, rather it shows that both actors possess a gift for improv and candor that are, in part, the heart of the show.
As for the inflatable dolls, we meet them in the dubious world of virtual reality and online dating. Our plastic hero (voiced and manipulated by Monley) has been deceived by his pneumatic paramour (Houska serves as puppet master) who, via her inflated bosom, convinces him that his artificial world, though collapsing about him, can still offer him everything he ever wanted. For those in the audience who have gone through the landmine that is electronic courtship and altered expectations, the laughter has a bitter edge.
We find a contrast in Suzy, our Manic Pixie Nightmare, superbly done by saucer-eyed Houska, who seems to turn the tables on the rom-com staple of the Quirky and Life-Changing Dream Girl. In a fantastic bit of physical comedy, a shrunken jacket sets off a chain of hysterical events that end with the hero, literally, losing his shirt.
Morley, via his dramatic mop of hair and hideous 80s button down, gives us a sad and spot-on look at the ridiculousness of twenty-first century pick-up artists promising love and lust with an absurd list of tips. Morley’s expressive eyebrows and elastic face add a clownish element to our would-be-Romeo.
While some scenes, especially those with the inflated dolls, threaten to fall flat, our duo brings each scene back from the brink with laughs, lightning fast jokes, and perfect chemistry.
You could check out the latest Katherine Heigl at Cinema City or, you could actually see something good.
Rachael Collins, Prague Film & Theater Center